STERLING – Steven Armoska’s last memory of tangling with Sterling on a basketball court was a bad one.
His performance on Saturday night will help to create some new, positive ones.
The Rock Falls senior stuffed the stat sheet with 27 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks to lead the Rockets past Sterling 57-44 at jam-packed Musgrove Fieldhouse in the Sauk Valley Shootout finale.
Rock Falls and Newman each finished with 4-1 tourney records, but the Comets took the title by winning the head-to-head matchup Wednesday.
Rock Falls last met Sterling in the finals of the Dixon Regional last winter, and the Golden Warriors eked out a 49-48 decision. Armoska was much more pleased with this result.
“They’re our friends, but it’s a rivalry game,” Armoska said. “We showed what we’re about this season.”
The Rockets were in charge virtually the entire game, racing to a 27-8 lead early in the second quarter after Austin Babcock drained a 3-pointer. Some questionable shot selection the rest of the period by Rock Falls, however, allowed Sterling (3-2) to climb back into it.
“I learned we can be pretty undisciplined,” Rock Falls coach Brad Bickett said. “We weren’t afraid to take a perimeter shot when maybe we should have been a little bit more selective on what we were looking for.”
It’s early in the season, and I’m trying to give the guys a little more slack, but we have to be more disciplined on shot selection.”
Sterling got within 29-26 after a 3-pointer from Zack Everett with 45 seconds remaining before halftime, but Rock Falls closed with a 4-0 spurt to go up 33-26 at the break.
The Rockets seized control in the second half mainly by funneling the ball inside to Armoska. The 6-foot-4 forward scored 18 of 27 points after the break, with most of the points coming on layups.
“I said something in the second quarter, and after that the guys were just hammering the ball down to me,” Armoska said. “All three of our coaches gave great speeches at halftime. They told us we had to start taking good shots. I’ve never seen [assistant] coach [Bret] Helms that mad before in my life.”
“That’s what we have to become,” Bickett said of finding Armoska inside. “When you have a player of his caliber that can finish the way he can, I think that’s huge.”
Babcock finished with nine points and five assists for the Rockets, while Alex Leaf also dished out five assists.
Alex Soriano led Sterling with 12 points, while Tre Whittaker and Micah Miller each had six. Whittaker and Everett also collected nine rebounds apiece as the Warriors claimed a 35-29 advantage in that department.
Rebounding and the second-quarter comeback, however, were about the only things the Warriors could hang their hat on this night.
“It was a fun second quarter,” Sterling coach Jim Preston said. “The kids did a good job, but obviously we didn’t start the ballgame the way we wanted to. That one’s on me. I’ve got to make sure we’re ready to play when we take the court, and I didn’t have us ready to play.”
Star of the game: Steven Armoska (RF), 27 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals
Key performers: Alex Soriano (S), 12 points, 2 steals; Austin Babcock (RF), 9 points, 5 assists
Up next: Burlington Central at Rock Falls, 7:15 Friday; Sterling at Geneseo, 7:30 p.m. Friday