ROCK FALLS – Rock Falls coach Brad Bickett broke out his version of the twin towers in senior forward Steven Armoska and junior center Daegan Wharff on Friday night against Burlington Central.
Both players came up big as Rock Falls won a battle of the Rockets, 66-58 in Big Northern Conference crossover game in Tabor Gymnasium.
The 6-foot-4 Armoska was a force inside with 33 points and 14 rebounds, while the 6-6 Wharff grabbed nine boards and scored eight points. He was 8-for-8 from the free-throw line, while the rest of his teammates were a combined 16-for-35.
Armoska and Wharff played at the same time sparingly during last week’s Sauk Valley Shootout, but Bickett worked them together more often in practice this week in preparation for what proves to be a rugged Big Northern slate. The move paid immediate dividends.
“Sure enough, with Burlington Central’s size and athleticism, we needed to have both of those guys in the ballgame,” Bickett said. “They did an outstanding job, and [6-5 forward] Connor Olson did an outstanding job. Our three bigs rotated and played very well.”
Wharff didn’t start, but was a good complement inside to Armoska. In fact, he came up with one of the game’s biggest plays when he drew the fifth foul on Burlington big man Duncan Ozburn with 7 minutes, 24 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Wharff dropped in two free throws to make the score 50-45, and without the 6-9 Ozburn clogging things up in the paint, Rock Falls (5-1) steadily pulled away.
“We just stuck together and played as a team,” Wharff said. “Playing in our home gym, we knew we had to protect it.”
Burlington (0-5) was able to hang around most of the game thanks to some deadeye shooting from senior Ryan Ritchie. He finished with 30 points, and shot 7-for-12 from 3-point range.
It was the first game of the season for Ritchie, who missed all four of his team’s games in the Sycamore tournament last week. He tore ligaments in his right thumb during Central’s fifth game of the football season against Genoa-Kingston.
“Hopefully we can get this going,” Ritchie said. “We’re just trying to clean some things up and become a team. I’m not really worried. We dug ourselves a hole, but I think we can get out.”
With Ritchie back on board, Burlington coach Brett Porto is confident his club will get things headed in the right direction.
“Part of the reason why we are where we are is he missed the first four games,” Porto said. “People tonight got to see why he’s such a good off-guard. What it came down to was our inability to move the basketball without turning it over. We had way too many turnovers.”
When told his team had 24 turnovers, Porto shook his head.
“That’s 24 times we didn’t get a shot,” he said. “That hurts in a game like that.”