STERLING – Carl Hipp’s numbers after Sunday’s game against the Chicago Muscle looked OK.
The 6-foot, 10-inch center from St. Paul, Minn., had seven points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
The box score didn’t really do justice to Hipp’s importance in the Sauk Valley Predators’ regular-season-ending 107-89 win at Musgrove Fieldhouse.
Hipp wrestled for rebounds on consecutive possessions early in the first quarter that provided the energy for 21-6 run. He then dove out of bounds for a loose ball on the first possession of the second half and managed to throw it off a Chicago player to keep the ball in the Predators’ hands.
“We knew their strength was under the basket, so the key was for us to keep getting rebounds,” Hipp said. “My role is to make those plays under the basket and play good defense.”
“The last four or five games, we’ve seen Carl really make the plays we need him to make,” Predators coach Kevin Keathley said. “He’s a guy I wasn’t really sure of when we started the season, but he’s put in the work both at practice and on his own time. He’s doing exactly what we need from him now.”
Hipp fought for a rebound with the Predators down 10-8 with 7 minutes to go in the first quarter. He grabbed the ball out of the air, came down, then went up strong to draw a foul. He made both free throws to the tie the score at 10.
Another hustle play for a rebound on the next possession kept the ball on the Predators’ (14-6) side.
The two plays started a 21-6 run to close the quarter that provided the double-digit lead the Predators would hold the rest of the game.
“I think the energy was there the whole game, we just started hitting shots,” said Herman Favors, who scored 27 points and had eight assists. “With our offense, we can seem a little lackluster when the shots aren’t falling. Once we got out running and making shots, it looked a lot better.”
Mike Rose and Antwon Harris each added 15 points. Harris came off the bench late in the first quarter and scored six quick points. He scored five more in the second quarter.
“Antwon is the toughest matchup in the PBL,” Keathley said. “He’s a 6-3 power forward. He’s quick and athletic, and that makes it tough for bigger guys to keep up with him.”
Former University of Illinois player Jereme Richmond had 12 points, two assists and a steal.
Richmond’s brother, Justin, scored 18 points for the Muscle (9-10).
The Predators’ attention turns to the playoffs, which begin April 6. Sauk Valley will host the Rochester RazorSharks at 7 p.m. at Musgrove Fieldhouse that night in the first game of best-of-three series.
The RazorSharks (17-1) are the defending Premier League champions.
“We can’t worry about the other team,” Favors said. “I tell the guys that we are playing to eat. The more we win, the more we eat. We win, and the better chance we have to further our careers.
“Other leagues and teams want to hire winners. We need to prove that we are winners.”
Star of the game: Carl Hipp, Predators, 7 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks
Key performers: Justin Richmond, Muscle, 18 points, 2 assists; Herman Favors, Predators, 27 points, 8 assists; Antwon Harris, Predators, 15 points.
Up next: Premier League Playoffs – Rochester RazorSharks at Sauk Valley Predators, 7 p.m. April 6, at Musgrove Fieldhouse