Four times in the last four years, the Rock Island girls' basketball team has reached the Class 4A sectional championship game. Four times the Rocks faced Edwardsville. And, four times, the Tigers ended RI's season.
There seems to be a different feel about Chapter 5 tonight in the Class 4A Normal West Sectional title game. The second-ranked Rocks come in 29-1 and the third-rated Tigers are 30-2. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
"I love those kids who played on those teams, but it just felt like all four years, when we got to the gym floor, we were so tight," RI coach Henry Hall said. "In those games, we were worried about Edwardsville. This team is only worried about Rock Island.
"We have not mentioned that team until Wednesday. After we won the game against Normal on Monday, we were only thinking about ourselves. From the day we started, we have believed in one thing — us — we don't change things depending on who we are playing, we just do what we do."
The Tigers needed a game-winning 3-pointer in the closing seconds to beat O'Fallon, 48-46 on Tuesday. While Hall says this is a different Edwardsville team from those the past couple of years, he said they are still good.
"They are not as big as they have been, but their role players from last year have stepped up to be leaders," he said. "They have a freshman (6-foot wing player Sydney Harris) who is a load. Her style is a lot like what Brea has been. It's a good matchup for us."
In the end, the Rocks will still play their game first.
"We are going to prepare for this game mostly by doing what we do," Rocky junior Hannah Simmer said following Monday's 52-37 sectional semifinal win over Normal Community. "We have won that way and we will keep doing that."
Hall said he will make adjustments after watching "three or four tapes of them," but he would agree that his biggest concern is how his team plays.
There is some belief that Edwardsville has known what was coming with the Rocks in past years, but Hall thinks that won't be the case this time around.
"I think we have been a little robotic in the past, and when we met back in June, I told them we would learn how to play basketball," he said. "We have our sets and play calls, but then it's about going out and playing basketball."
He also loves that his players do not appear to be caught up in the moment, including freshman Imari McDuffy and sophomores Brooklynn Larson and Jamyah Winter.
"I knew they were going to be good, but I didn't think it would happen as quickly as it did," Hall said. "I think the only time those young ones were nervous was red/gold night. I think everyone will be nervous (tonight), but the anxiety will be gone once the ball goes in the air."