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Newark boys finish fourth in state

PEORIA - Will Clausel's basketball story at Newark came full circle, an arc that losses in his last two games couldn't break.

Clausel's uncle, Tracy, starred for the Norsemen in the 1970s. Clausel, older brother Jack and lifelong neighbor and teammate Steve McGrath were kids who grew up following the 2011 Newark state championship team.

Clausel appreciated the chance to be at the other end.

Almost three full sections of Peoria's Carver Arena was a sea of Newark blue for two days, there to support Clausel and the Norsemen.

"I wish our season could have ended like theirs did in 2011," Clausel said, "but like coach said in the locker room there's little kids that are looking up to us like we were looking up to those guys. It's nice to be a part of it. Hopefully in a few years there will be another group down here and we'll be cheering them on."

The Norsemen took home the program's second state basketball trophy, although it wasn't quite the one they aspired toward. Chicago Hope Academy beat Newark 60-46 in the Class 1A third-place on Saturday.

Clausel, a second team All-State selection by the Associated Press, and fellow senior Cameron Myre both scored 19 points for Newark, who led 29-28 at halftime. But the Norsemen (28-6) couldn't overcome Hope Academy's sizzling 61.1 percent shooting. Newark made just two field goals in the third quarter after its hot start.

All-Stater Jordan Doss led Hope Academy with 20 points, going 5-for-10 from 3-point range.

"We didn't want to come home with fourth place, but the important thing is we got here," Newark coach Rick Tollefson said. "Basketball is a funny game. (Hope Academy) hit two outside shots (in the semifinals) Friday. Today was a different story."

Hope Academy and Newark were not strangers. Newark's 2011 team beat Hope Academy in a sectional final at Mooseheart en route to the state title. This was Hope Academy's first state appearance.

"I've always had respect for that Newark program," Hope Academy coach Antwon Johnson said. "We've always wanted to get to the level that they're at."

One of the 2011 Norsemen's key players, John Avery, is now a volunteer assistant at Newark. He put this group's accomplishment in good perspective.

"Every kid in Illinois starts their season wanting to play in Peoria," Avery said. "After the Annawan loss (in February) I had people telling me this team should just be worried about getting out of regionals. They have a lot to be proud of."

Both Newark and Hope Academy struggled through cold shooting in the semifinals. Both broke out early Saturday.

For the Norsemen, Myre hit his first four 3-point attempts, and Clausel scored seven in a first quarter that saw Newark shoot 54.5 percent. It was tied 18-18 after a quarter, and Clausel's two free throws sent Newark into halftime ahead 29-28.

The Norsemen never led again after Doss' 3-pointer to start the third quarter.

"I wasn't necessarily feeling it in warmups, but I was definitely feeling it in the games," Myre said. "I just really didn't want to lose."

Newark didn't lose too often the last four years with seniors like Clausel, Myre and McGrath, going 96-29.

Tollefson put the ball in Clausel's hands as a freshman point guard, and he ran with it. That faith was not lost on the Newark senior, who finished his career fifth on the school's all-time scoring list with over 1,600 points.

"A lot of coaches wouldn't have done that for a little freshman, but he trusted me," Clausel said. "We did some special things."

Clausel's immediate future is on Newark's baseball team, a sport he laughed he hasn't played since "pony league." Basketball is in his future, too, a college decision he expects to make soon.

Newark will return starters Dylan Patrick and Beau Brown next year, as well as sixth man Corey Jacobson. Tollefson won't forget his seniors.

"I can't say enough about these guys. They're etched into my heart," Tollefson said. "I just love these guys like they're family. They're disappointed now but years from now they'll look back on this with fondness."

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