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Boys basketball: Rock Falls, Sterling could turn seasons around with victory

Rivalry game still big

Neither team is where they want to be, but a win over their archrival would be a big step in the right direction.

Sterling is 5-7 this season, and Rock Falls 4-9. Both will be looking to make a statement tonight when the teams tangle at Tabor Gym.

Lifelong Rock Falls resident Austin Donoho, a senior guard for the Rockets, knows the Rock River rivalry well.

"Every time you see Sterling on the schedule, that's one you circle for sure," said Donoho, Rock Falls' second-leading scorer at 12.7 points per game. "I know a lot of the kids over there. Off the court, you're friends. But, on the court, it's all business."

The Golden Warriors are on a bit of an upswing. They are unbeaten in 2014, with wins over Rochelle and Streator.

Sophomore guard Sterling Thornton has been a key cog for the Warriors. He's Sterling's second-leading scorer at 11 points per game.

Though Thornton moved to Sterling just 4 years ago, he is fully aware that Rock Falls vs. Sterling is not just another game.

"It's a big game, but you kind of have to look at as just another game," Thornton said. "Otherwise, you put pressure on yourself and try to do stuff that you usually don't do."

Second-year Sterling coach Jim Preston embraces the rivalry.

"Rivalries are great," Preston said. "The rivalry between Sterling and Rock Falls is something that the communities enjoy. The kids enjoy it. We're fortunate to have that, but we can't get caught up in the rivalry. Sometimes that's easier said than done."

Underachieved. Disappointing. Unacceptable. Those are the words second-year Rockets coach Brad Bickett used to describe his team's season to this point.

He would not mind seeing his team get caught up in the rivalry.

"We better have a little extra hop in our step, because it's Sterling," Bickett said. "We're 4-9. I'd take us more amped up than we have been, because there's been times we've been sleepwalking."

Sterling has already played a rivalry game this season, falling 47-45 at Dixon on Dec. 13.

"I think we learned from that," Thornton said. "There's going to be a lot of people there [tonight]. It's going to be like the atmosphere was at Dixon. We've come a long way since then."

Six-foot-six senior Daegan Wharff, who missed Rock Falls' last game on Jan. 4, will return from his ankle injury and start tonight.

Donoho feels that a turnaround could be right around the corner for the Rockets.

"We're pretty amped for this game," he said. "If we get that W, hopefully it gets thing going like we want."

Recent tale of the tape

• 2012-13: Rock Falls def. Sterling 57-44

• 2011-12: Rock Falls def. Sterling 63-60, 2OT; Sterling def. Rock Falls 49-48

• 2010-11: Sterling def. Rock Falls 61-51

• 2009-10: Rock Falls def. Sterling 52-42

• 2008-09: Sterling def. Rock Falls 65-48; Sterling def. Rock Falls 57-37

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