STERLING – What may have been Streator's last visit to Musgrove Fieldhouse was a lot more interesting than people in blue and gold would have liked.
Sterling built up a sizable lead, then had to withstand a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Bulldogs before pulling out a 66-62 victory on Friday night.
"We've struggled in the fourth quarter this year, and you could see that," Sterling senior guard Zach Rehmert said. "The important thing is we were able to hang on and pick up the W. That's what really mattered tonight."
The Golden Warriors (5-7, 2-1 NIB-12 West) opened the third quarter with a 7-0 run to seize a 43-27 lead, and were still up 52-39 entering the final quarter. The Bulldogs (5-8, 0-3), who will be members of the Interstate Eight Conference starting in the fall, were far from dead, though.
Senior forward Max Vickers scored 11 of his season-high 21 points in the final quarter to keep Streator afloat. His basket with 1:05 remaining got the Bulldogs to within 62-58, and his two free throws with 35.9 seconds to go got it back to a four-point margin at 64-60.
Rehmert hit a pair of free throws with 30.9 seconds on the clock to give Sterling a 66-60 lead, but Streator's Brandon Godfrey tipped in his own missed shot with 17.8 seconds remaining to make it 66-62.
Sterling then inbounded to Rehmert, who was double-teamed and had the ball stripped by Streator's Nolan Sokol. The ball went to Godfrey, and he took it strong to the basket, only to miss twice from close range.
The Warriors' Joe Brouilette came up with the second miss, and was fouled with 5.4 seconds to play. He missed both free throws, and a 3-pointer by Vickers at the buzzer missed to seal Sterling's win.
"We showed a lot of heart coming back when it really could have got away from us," Streator coach Beau Doty said, "but to win a conference game on the road, you've got to play 32 minutes. We've got guys with experience that should know that, so we've got to come out of the gate stronger."
Vickers led the Bulldogs with 21 points and nine rebounds, Godfrey finished with 14 points, and William Phillips added 10. Sokol, the team's leading scorer at about 12 points per game, scored just two on 1-for-8 shooting.
"Anybody can pick it up on any given night," Vickers said. "We have a lot of people that we can rely on to score the ball. If someone's off, we have a lot of kids that can make plays for themselves, and get open and make shots."
Rehmert and sophomore forward Sterling Thornton didn't start after being late for a film session on Friday. They entered the game with 4:15 remaining in the first quarter, and rarely left the court the rest of the way. Rehmert led the Warriors with 21 points, seven rebounds and three steals, while Thornton added 18 points.
Sterling coach Jim Preston pointed to a host of things he liked from his team, such as transitioning from defense to offense, rebounding, and defending Sokol, the Bulldogs' top threat. An area that needs to improve, however, is keeping a team down when they're down.
"We did some good stuff," Preston said, "but we've got to take that next step. We've got to close out games, and that comes with experience."
Sterling 66, Streator 62
Star of the game: Zach Rehmert, Sterling, 21 points, 7 rebounds
Key performers: Sterling Thornton, Sterling 18 points; Max Vickers, Streator, 21 points, 9 rebounds
Up next: Sterling at Rock Falls, 7:15 Tuesday