The Kaskaskia Blue Devils (23-10) are in the NJCAA finals next week marking the school’s sixth appearance in the field and first since the 1998 season under former coach Jeff Carling.
Kaskaskia was the giant-killer in the District 16 tournament, defeating three ranked teams, number 26 Olney Central, 94-91, second-rated Vincennes, 78-76, and No. 25 Wabash Valley, 68-66, in the championship game last Friday night.
The Blue Devils’ first trip to Hutchinson in 1954 was by invitation after Region 2 champion Campbellsville, Ken., was disqualified by having two ineligible players and a team was need to fill the 16-team bracket. Centralia had finished third in the region tournament.
Centralia Junior College, now Kaskaskia, lost in the opening round to Moberly, 67-51, rebounded to defeat Trenton, N.J., 74-72, before losing to Eastern Arizona, 79-72, and finished the season with a 12-13 record.
Ten years passed before Centralia would make the field again, but this time as the nation’s top-scoring team at 115-plus points per game.
The draw didn’t do the Blue Devils any favor. They were defeated by Burlington, Ia., 99-76, which was led by future Indiana Pacer star Mel Daniels.
After beating Jackson, Mich., 102-78, and San Angelo, Tex., 106-104, in the consolation round, Centralia lost, 100-99, to Leicester, Mass., and finished eighth in the tournament, concluding the season with a 28-3 overall record.
As Kaskaskia College in 1985, the team fought to its best national tournament finish.
A legitimate contender, the Blue Devils entered the week with a 33-1 season record only to drop their first-round game, 53-47, to Kankakee, Ill.
They rebounded to oust Westchester, NY, 105-73, Shelby State, Tenn., 94-76, and then beat Westark, Ark., 70-57, in the seventh place game ending the season at 36-2.
Carling took Kaskaskia to the 1991 finals, suffering a first-round loss to Barton County, Kan., 111-86, defeating Eastern Wyoming, 102-82, and then losing to Westchester, 85-80, concluding the year at 26-11.
In 1998, Carling guided Kaskaskia to a first-round, 89-76, upset of Western Nebraska. The Blue Devils’ run ended with an 83-76 loss to Seward County and then a season-ending, 103-98, overtime setback to Southern Union, Ala. The Blue Devils’ final record was 32-5.