Posted Online: Jan. 04, 2013, 10:28 pm

Rockets strengthen WCC North lead with key win over Titans

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By Terry Duckett,

Photo: Steve Davis | Galesburg Register-Mail
Rockridge’s Ethan Happ (22) snares a rebound away from Monmouth-Roseville’s Dolton Hottle as the Rockets’ Nick Madison moves in during action on Friday in Monmouth.
MONMOUTH -- In their own words, the Rockridge Rockets had hit a bit of a slump over the last few weeks as starters Ethan Happ and Nyle Stevens nursed injuries.

Not only were both Happ and Stevens back in the lineup for Friday night's key mid-season West Central North boys' basketball showdown with Monmouth-Roseville, but their presence seemed to give the Rockets an extra lift when they needed it most.

Stevens delivered a yeoman performance defensively and on the boards with five caroms in addition to adding eight points. Happ joined sophomore teammate Bryan Heath with a double-double as Rockridge strengthened its division lead with a 62-56 victory at a full Shoebox.

"We didn't want to use me being out as a crutch,'' said Happ, who worked his way to 17 points and 10 rebounds to complement Heath's 14-point, 12-rebound effort. "We don't want to peak now. We want to keep rising and make a run, and hopefully peak in February.''

Up just 32-30 at halftime in the Titans' house, Rockridge (12-2, 4-0 WCC North) started to clamp down defensively as it took advantage of the foul problems of Mon-Rose junior big man Trayvon Smith. With a Heath 3-pointer providing the fuel, the Rockets soared to a nine-point lead during the third period and took a 45-38 edge into the final period.

The Titans (10-4, 2-2) closed the gap to 45-41 on Martel Hunter's 3-ball, but Rockridge put together a 15-8 run that earned the Rockets their biggest lead of the evening at 11 points. A pair of Connor Gillen buckets made it a 60-53 game with just under a minute remaining, but it was too late for the hosts.

"We were in a slump for the last two weeks, with two players out,'' said Heath. "To come back here and play as good as we did, that gives us confidence. We've got them both back, and now we're back to where we started. Everyone knows their roles, and tonight was a big step forward. We're just getting better.''

As Smith picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter, Hunter stepped up his play by scoring nine of his 15 points in the frame to keep Monmouth-Roseville close, trailing 18-14 at the period's end. A bucket by Gillen (16 points) knotted the game at 21, but a Heath trey broke the tie, and a subsequent three-point play by Matt Klundt kept Rockridge up at intermission.

"It wasn't our intention (to get Smith in foul trouble); that was just the way we wanted to play defense against him, and Ethan did a phenomenal job,'' said Rockridge coach Toby Whiteman."This has to be a confidence-booster, coming to a gym like this, with a crowd and atmosphere like this, and to get the win.''

Also helping secure the victory was Darren Southwell's near double-double as he finished with 10 boards and seven points.

Monmouth-Roseville coach Chuck Grant feels the physicality that marked last year's Sweet 16 team was missing Friday night, and that it made the difference, along with a 5-for-12 outing from the foul line.

"You can't play tentative against a team as physical as Rockridge,'' said Grant, who also got nine rebounds from Hunter and 12 points and six boards from Dalton Hottle. "Even down two at halftime, we knew it'd be an uphill climb. We're not as physical a club.

"Losing Trayvon was tough, but we had plenty of guys on the floor who could win a game. If we make a few more free throws in the second quarter, we're up at halftime, and that's a huge momentum difference.''