ROCK FALLS – There was nothing lucky about the seven Rock Falls rolled to start the third quarter of Saturday’s game against Mendota.
The Rockets hit their first seven shots from the field to break open a tight game, then pulled away at the end for a 78-62 victory over the Trojans in a Big Northern West contest in Tabor Gym.
Rock Falls (14-4, 3-2), clinging to a 31-28 lead at halftime, led 50-38 after the burst over the first 5 minutes of the third quarter. Senior forward Steven Armoska had four of the baskets, highlighted by a 3-pointer and an old-fashioned three-point play.
Rock Falls coach Brad Bickett would like to take credit for the stretch due to some tactical change, but it really wasn’t the case.
“It was just something that every coach talks about. Sometimes they respond and sometimes they don’t,” Bickett said. “We always talk about the first 3-to-5 minutes of the third quarter being important. We did talk about attacking inside-out, and by going inside, they doubled-down on our guys and it freed up some things on the perimeter.”
Mendota (13-6, 2-3) climbed back to within 63-57 after Evan Carroll hit a free throw with 3:20 left in the fourth quarter, but that was close as the Trojans could come, as the Rockets hit 10 of 12 free throws in the final 2:44.
Both teams emptied their benches with 41.8 seconds remaining and Rock Falls ahead 75-62. Reserve guard Cory McCallister hit a crowd-pleasing 3-pointer at the buzzer to account for the final margin.
Armoska was a force all night with 30 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. He attempted 10 shots in the first quarter, hit six, and noted there was a reason for his wanting the ball.
“What I was trying to do, the kid that was guarding me [Mendota forward Trae Blumhorst], I was trying to get him into foul trouble,” Armoska said. “And then I wanted the big kid [6-foot-7 center Austin O’Sadnick] to move to me so I could get him in foul trouble, and we’d have a pretty solid chance of winning this game.”
Blumhorst eventually did get in foul trouble, but not necessarily due to Armoska. His third foul came when he was called for a charge after running into the Rockets’ Daegan Wharff with 2:17 to play and the score 67-57. He then smacked the mat beyond the baseline and was hit with a technical foul, which also counted as a personal foul.
Jace Anderson (14 points), Alex Leaf (10 points) and Austin Babcock (8 points) rounded out a balanced offensive attack for Rock Falls.
Blumhorst led Mendota with 19 points and 10 boards, while O’Sadnick finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Fellow starters Evan Carroll (14 points), James Carroll (10 points) and Jon Gehm (9 points) accounted for all of the Trojans’ scoring.
For Trojans coach Jan Thompson, it was just another night in the Big Northern West. His team put up a game fight against league heavyweight Rockford Lutheran on Friday before losing by 10, and it didn’t get any easier with a trip to Tabor Gym.
“Rock Falls is a really, really good team,” he said. “They’re dangerous as can be. When their kids are hitting, they’re about as good as any team in the conference. Coach Bickett has got them playing really hard and really well right now.”
Rock Falls 78, Mendota 62
Star of the game: Steven Armoska (RF), 30 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals
Key performers: Jace Anderson (RF), 14 points; Trae Blumhorst (M), 19 points, 10 rebounds; Austin O’Sadnick (M), 12 rebounds, 10 points
Up next: Rock Falls at Stillman Valley, 7:15 Thursday