Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2013, 10:55 pm

Happ delivers a classic performance as Rockets break 10-year regional drought

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By Terry Duckett, tduckett@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Rockridge's Matt Klundt hoists the Rockets' IHSA Class 2A Regional Championship plaque following the team's 57-37 win over the Orion Chargers in Edgington on Friday, February 22, 2103.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Rockridge Bryan Heath dribbles past Orion's Clay Vanderheiden during the IHSA Class 2A Regional championship game in Edgington on Friday, February 22, 2013. Rockridge won 57-37.
EDGINGTON -- Clad in throwback uniforms that evoked the successes of the late 1970s and early '80s, the Rockridge boys' basketball team also was looking to turn back the clock Friday night.

Taking on West Central North-rival Orion in the Class 2A Rockridge Regional finals, the Rockets snapped a 10-year postseason title drought. Ethan Happ, their 6-foot-7 junior center, delivered a classic performance of his own to fuel a 57-37 victory over the Chargers before a near-full house.

After making just 1-of-3 shots and missing both of his free-throw attempts in the first quarter, Happ hardly missed from that point on. Hitting on 12-of-16 field goals and nine straight foul shots after an 0-for-3 start, he posted game highs of 33 points, seven rebounds and five steals.

"Orion is a good team, but we just had to shake off the jitters in the first quarter. Our defense kept us in it,'' said Happ. "It was mentioned to us that it'd been 10 years since Rockridge's last regional championship. I can't tell you how it feels to break that drought.''

At the game's outset, third-seeded Orion (18-13) showed it had come to play with the 23-4, top-seeded Rockets. Fueled by 3-pointers from Adam Killion and Drew Amador and then a buzzer-beating jumper by Amador, the Chargers grabbed a 10-7 lead after the opening period.

"The whole first half, we didn't shoot the ball well or move it around well,'' said Rockridge sophomore guard Bryan Heath (11 points, six rebounds). "We were standing around; it almost looked like we didn't know what we were doing out there.''

Once the second quarter commenced, though, Rockridge knew what it had to do -- start feeding Happ in the paint. Happ hit all five of his shots and was 4-of-5 from the foul line as the Rockets used a 12-2 run as the springboard to a 25-14 halftime lead.

Orion coach Brent Hutton was less than pleased with the 12 fouls whistled on his team to the hosts' four.However, turnovers also proved to be a nemesis of Orion's, particularly in the second quarter, when the Chargers committed 11 of their 22 miscues.

"Give credit to Rockridge,'' said Hutton. "What we've done to teams this year with our length, they did it to us, and got us to turn the ball over. In the first quarter, we showed how we've grown as a team on defense; they were having trouble getting their shots off.''

Killion tried to kick-start the Chargers by hitting a 3-pointer early in the third to make it a 27-17 game, but Rockridge only turned up the heat, going up by as much as 17 before taking a 40-24 lead into the final period. Orion battled to within 44-33 with 4:56 left to play, but got no closer.

"We knew we had to take care of the ball, because Rockridge has such a phenomenal transition game,'' said Hutton, who got 11 points from Tyler Nelson, 10 from Killion, nine from Amador and five rebounds from Dakota Grant. "They score so many times off the break, and it's hard to defend 3-on-2 like we did a lot of times.''

Now, the Rockets can enjoy their first regional crown since winning back-to-back titles in 2002 and '03 before turning to the task of winning the program's first sectional championship. Rockridge will take on 2012 Elite Eight qualifier Minonk Fieldcrest in Wednesday's 7:30 p.m. semifinal at the Farmington Sectional.

"Oh yeah,'' said a grinning Heath. "We're definitely excited for sectionals.''