By FRANK CASH
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
GRIGGSVILLE, Ill. -- Daulton Speckhart didn't score in Friday night's Class 1A regional championship game, but don't underestimate his contribution in Payson Seymour's 63-57 victory over Liberty.
When the top-seeded Indians attacked the No. 2 Eagles' half-court pressure defense with back-door layups during the second half, Speckhart -- normally a forward -- stepped into a guard's role. He handed out six assists after halftime as Payson eventually pulled out to an 18-point lead.
"(Speckhart) stepped up big tonight," Payson junior Cody Hildebrand said. "We had a lot of guys step up tonight with big contributions, but his might've been the biggest."
It all added up to the Indians' first regional championship since 1993. Payson, now 26-5 after recording its 11th straight victory, will play Elmwood at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the sectional semifinals at Brown County. Elmwood won the Princeville Regional with a 59-49 victory over Williamsfield.
"It feels great to finally win a regional after all of the work we've put in," said Speckhart, who finished with seven assists. "It wasn't easy. Liberty wouldn't let us pull away. We need to work on finishing games but it worked out all right tonight."
The Indians had prepared their back-door attack to counter the Eagles' inside duo of 6-foot-4 Isaac Murfin and 6-3 Kody Leapley.
The first back door came on Payson's first basket of the second half. Speckhart's pass from the top of the key found Jake Voss as he drove the right baseline for a basket and a 34-20 lead.
Speckhart hooked up with Voss and Lance Buhlig for layups on back-to-back possessions later in the third quarter for a 47-31 lead. Hildebrand's pull-up jumper in the lane extended Payson's lead to 49-31 -- its biggest of the game.
"We played well for a little over three quarters," Indians coach Brian Rea said. "While we were playing well, the back doorr was a big part of our success. The players communicated well during that stretch. After that, we tended to hang on for dear life."
Payson maintained a 59-41 lead when Voss converted a three-point play after catching a pass from Speckhart with 4:32 left in the game. After that, Liberty (19-11) went on an 11-0 run capped by Tyler Ormond's two free throws with 2:23 left.
"We showed some resolve in the second half," Eagles coach Andy Douglas said. "We learned earlier in the season that we can't dig that big of a hole early in games. We had a lot of trouble defending Payson tonight. That was the biggest difference."
The margin stayed between six and nine points with Leapley scoring on a putback with 18.4 seconds left. The Indians turned the ball over but Michael Blewett missed a 3-pointer with 14.9 seconds left.
Payson's Hunter Flesner was fouled by Leapley on the rebound and missed his first free throw attempt. He had to leave the game when blood was found on his wrist. Flesner was replaced by Joey Blickhan who hadn't yet played in the game.
Blickhan missed the free throw but grabbed a rebound and was fouled after Michael Blewett missed another 3-pointer. Again, Blickhan missed both free throws with 7.1 seconds left.
Liberty had only one chance left but Blewett missed another 3-pointer and Payson's Gage Klitz grabbed the rebound at the buzzer.
"It was a great moment for (Blickhan) to get in there especially since he's a senior," said Rea, who had played only six players until then and turned to Blickhan since Buhlig had fouled out. "He kept his composure and did what he needed to do."
Keeping composure led to a big reward for Payson.
"All of the hard work has paid off although we still want to win a few more games," Hildebrand said. "We all played together tonight. I'm proud of my team."