The Rock Island boys' basketball team waited more than a year for this moment, and the Rocks were not about to let it pass them by.|
Getting their long-awaited rematch with 2012 regional nemesis Pekin in Friday night's Class 4A United Township regional final, the Rocks endured the Dragons' second-half 3-point barrage. Rocky sixth man Keenan Shorter's fourth quarter also made sure his team wouldn't come up short in a 56-50 victory at a near-full Panther Den in East Moline.
A trey by Pekin's Zac Hansen pulled the Dragons to within one at 41-40 early in the fourth quarter. Shorter than came up big as the 6-foot-2 junior guard stepped to the forefront. Following an answering trey by C.J. Carr, Shorter hit back-to-back buckets to stretch Rocky's lead to 48-40 and give it the breathing room it needed.
"Coach (Rocky coach Thom Sigel) said to keep cutting hard, and the slips would be open,'' said Shorter, who finished with a team-best 13 points to lead a balanced attack. "We just had to keep playing within our speed.''
More than 12 months after suffering a 78-65 loss to the Dragons in the Moline Regional semifinals, the Rocks (24-4) are back in the sectionals for the seventh time in Sigel's 12-year tenure, and the fourth time in five years. They will face Normal West Tuesday night at 7:30 at the Pekin Sectional.
"We've waited all year for this,'' said Shorter, "but now we've got to get this game out of our minds. We've got to keep playing hard and get ready for sectionals. We can't underestimate any team; we can't let up.''
In veteran coach Dave Mott's last game with the Dragons, Pekin (19-8) wasn't about to go away quietly. A pair of treys by the appropriately named Trey Scotti (20 points) made it a 49-45 game with 1:10 left to play, but then Rocky's Brian Richardson came up big, hitting four straight free throws to lock up the win.
"I wanted the ball, and my teammates put it in my hands for a reason,'' said the senior guard, who finished with 11 points. "I had to knock 'em down. Pekin beat us hard, and Taphorn (Northwestern-bound Pekin forward Nathan Taphorn) is a great player, so it's a great feeling to knock them off.''
It seemed as if Rock Island was ready to put away the Dragons early. With Carr scoring half of his 12 points in the first quarter and teammate Trey Sigel netting half of his 10, the Rocks opened with a 10-3 run and led 15-5 after a Trae Babers tip-in bucket to beat the first-period buzzer.
Rocky then worked its way to a 21-9 lead early in the second before Pekin found its feet as the 6-foot-7 Taphorn stepped up by scoring eight of his 16 points in the period. Although the Rocks maintained a 28-19 halftime lead, the Dragons showed signs of what would come in the second half.
"Taphorn is a great player,'' quipped Coach Sigel, "and other than playing against us, I enjoy watching him play.''
With Zac Hansen (10 points) bagging a pair of 3-pointers to jump-start Pekin, the Dragons forged a 32-all tie on a Taphorn trey with 4:21 to go in the third period. Rock Island then scored the next five points. Although Pekin trailed just 41-37 entering the fourth quarter, the Rocks were not about to be denied their moment.
"They hit some shots, and we panicked a bit on offense, but we settled down,'' said Sigel. "We did a good job of not playing in too much of a hurry. We got some big buckets early in the fourth quarter, which got our momentum back. That was huge.''
Orion, IL Details
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