With his Rock Falls Rockets' regular season in the books, coach Craig Mammosser was studying film Thursday night.
He watched the play over and over again, unable to get enough of Tyler Griffey getting free under the hoop, scoring at the buzzer and giving Illinois its most signature victory in a long, long time.
It was only the third victory over a No. 1 seed in Illini history. And it illustrated a point.
"You don't have to be better than the team you're playing 7 out of 10 times," Mammosser said. "It's all about being ready the night you play them."
That's a credo he shouldn't have to preach hard to his Rockets, who were swept by Rockford Lutheran in the 2011-12 regular season. All they did in the postseason was suffocate the Crusaders in a 62-47 Class 2A sectional semifinal.
"I think the girls learned by what happened that it only takes one game," Mammosser said. "One game, every night you play."
"Honestly, I like to win," Mammosser's niece and starting point guard Morgan said, referring to the disappointment of a 12-15 regular-season record, "but the postseason is where it's at. I don't care if you go 0-42, it's all about the postseason."
The Rockets completed their current regular season with a 46-32 home loss to Mendota in which the host scored eight points in the second half. Mammosser said the Trojans, the No. 4 seed in the 3A Sterling Regional, "can give anybody fits."
To find the Rockets' truly John Hancock-esque signature victory, you've got to flip back through 84 days' worth of Daily Gazettes.
On Nov. 17, Rock Falls (No. 3 seed) beat Sterling (18-12, No. 2 seed) 44-39 in a Sauk Valley Shootout game at Tabor Gym.
A lot has changed.
"We're a much different team, as are they," Sterling coach Julie Schroeder said. "That matchup doesn't mean anything, other than our kids are still thinking they shouldn't have lost that game."
When they lock horns at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Musgrove Fieldhouse, Kara Nehrkorn – who scored 15 points in the first matchup – won't be in the lineup. She broke her toe and is done for the season. But another sharpshooter, freshman Sydnie Nailor, has gotten her first few varsity games under her belt. And sophomore Dallas Clevenger is getting better every day.
"She's so athletic, and I don't think she believes how athletic she is," Mammosser said.
The Warriors have a two perceivably signature victories this season: a 55-52 victory over Ottawa at Musgrove that ultimately saw the teams share the NIB-12 West title, and a clutch 56-54 victory over then 11-5 Yorkville on Jan. 19.
Sterling has won 11 of 13, a stretch that was triggered by a signature near-miss, 62-59 on Dec. 29 against aforementioned Lutheran, which was 11-3 at the time.
"We should've won that game," Schroeder said. "We missed some bunnies big-time – wide-open bunnies – and let them back in that game.
"That was a big game for us and a turning point for us. It opened some eyes for our kids about what we need to do to be successful."
Should the Warriors get past the Rockets, they're also quite familiar with what it will take to win a second straight regional title. Unless fifth-seeded Dixon (10-17) or Mendota (17-10) can slow 6-footer Michelle Dobbs, the top-seeded Rochelle Hubs (20-5) will await a challenger in Thursday's title game.
Dixon coach Luke Ravlin recently said his Duchesses embrace the challenge.
"Absolutely," he said. "There's not a lot of people that expect us to be able to do much in that regional, and they don't expect a lot of us in a lot of the games we play. I think we come out and we're able to surprise people sometimes."
The Hubs edged Sterling 51-46 in a Dixon tournament game Dec. 28 and gave coach Kay Dobbs her 300th victory with a 51-40 home victory over Sterling – which was without the services of do-it-all forward Kiarra Harris (10 ppg., 7.4 rpg., 2.6 apg., 2.3 spg., 1 bpg.).
"We still competed very well, and I think if Kiarra was there, we would've won," Sterling senior McKenna Pearson said. "I like that we're the underdog and that nobody really expects us to win I love this team. We're playing for each other with nothing to lose."
SVM SCOUTS 3A STERLING SECTIONAL
(records updated through Thursday, Feb. 7)
When: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday
Where: Sterling High School
Teams: No. 1 Rochelle (20-5), No. 2 Rock Falls (12-15), No. 3 Sterling (18-12), No. 4 Mendota (17-10), No. 5 Dixon (10-17)
Players to watch: Brooke Bailey, Dixon, 5-6 jr. G; Abby Bromenshenkel, Mendota, 5-9 so. G ; Ally Bromenshenkel, Mendota, 6-1 so. F; Kacie Dillow, Dixon, 5-6 sr. F; Michelle Dobbs, Rochelle, 6-0 sr. C; Jordan Giddings, Rock Falls, 6-1 sr. F; Abby Gould, Rochelle, 5-11 jr. F; Kiarra Harris, Sterling, 5-11 jr. F; Stephanie Kester, Sterling, 5-6 sr. G; Morgan Mammosser, Rock Falls, 5-8 sr. PG
Outlook: When overmatched, talent-wise, it's shown in the results for Rock Falls this season. Being held to eight points in the second half of a loss to Mendota on Tuesday 46-32 is a bad sign. Sterling finally gets Rochelle on its home floor. The Golden Warriors hung tough twice with the Hubs, leading the first matchup as late as the third period at the Dixon tournament over Christmas break. They lost the second go-round in Rochelle without Harris. Dixon simply doesn't have the cast to support Bailey and be a factor. Sterling is 3-0 against the Duchesses, Rochelle and Rock Falls both 1-0.
Dark horse: Sterling
Winner to: Genoa-Kingston Sectional vs. Stillman Valley Regional winner, 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18
SVM prediction: Rochelle