ROCK FALLS – Mendota coach Jan Thompson's main rule about playing on the road is that the Trojans have to hustle more than the home team to have a chance.
It's a rule that the Trojans have taken to heart when stepping into Tabor Gym.
On Saturday, Mendota raced out to a big lead in the first quarter and never slowed down in an 85-69 victory.
"A few weeks ago, we had a game against Byron at home, and they outworked us the whole game," Thompson said. "I told the boys that is the sort of intensity we have to have when we go on the road. It has to be for all four quarters, because if you let up, the home team will make a run."
Mendota (14-4, 3-2) is on a four-game winning streak at Tabor Gym, after sweeping three games last season at the 3A Rock Falls Regional. The Trojans knocked off Sterling, Rock Falls and LaSalle-Peru to win the regional title before falling at the Bradley Sectional.
The Rockets (5-14, 1-5) beat Mendota twice during the regular season.
After the game on Saturday, both teams had the upcoming regional on their mind.
"That's the consolation we can take from this," Rock Falls coach Brad Bickett said. "Last year, we beat them twice, but knew that they had a pretty good team. Unfortunately, they got us in the regional. It's our turn to learn from the mistakes and try to make a run in the postseason."
This year, the regional will be held at LaSalle-Peru, and the Trojans are vying for the top seed. Beating the Rockets is a good way to pad the resume. Mendota also beat Dixon on Thursday, 55-52. The Dukes are the top challengers for that top seed.
"This is an important game in terms of seeding," Thompson said. "We won't play Rock Falls again until the last game of the season, and the seeding will be done before that. We got a big win over Dixon the other night, so we needed to take care of business here."
One of the reasons the Trojans made a run last year was the emergence of guard James Carroll. He has continued to wreak havoc on defenses this season.
He scored the first four points on Saturday, and he scored half the points in an 18-1 run that spanned the first 5 minutes.
While the Mendota offense had plenty of weapons, including Joe LeShonse's 19 points, it was Carroll that seemed to spark every run. He finished with 27 points, eight rebounds, four steals and three assists.
"He was the difference for them at the end of last season," Bickett said. "He really gained a lot of confidence. They have a group of players that are fast and are not afraid to attack the basket. Tonight, they were aggressive, and we weren't ready for it. Our transition defense was not good at all."
"Attacking the basket is our game," Thompson. "We can hit the 3, but that works best when we attack and then kick it back out."
Rock Falls started to close the gap late in the first quarter, thanks to 3-pointers from Tanner Dean and Aaron Frank. Still, it trailed 23-12 at the buzzer.
Baskets by Dean, Frank, and Austin Donoho cut into the lead more, getting the deficit down to eight points at 29-21.
The Trojans didn't let it get any closer than that, as Mendota closed the half on a 21-7 run. Included in that run was a stretch where Carroll scored seven straight points.
Late in the second quarter, Donoho picked up his third and fourth fouls.
"Nothing was really going right," Bickett said. "We seemed to turn a corner a little bit last week against Byron. We have a week of practices, and you hope to come out strong. Instead, we came out slow. This group has the heart, it just has to start executing."
Sophomore forward Daivon Allen had a nice second half, scoring 12 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and blocking two shots. Frank, a junior, led the team with 12 points, and Donoho did not pick up a foul the rest of the way and finished with 10 points.
Star of the game: James Carroll, Mendota, 27 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists
Key performers: Joe LeShonse, Mendota, 19 points; Daivon Allen, Rock Falls, 12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks
Up next: Winnebago at Rock Falls, 7:15 p.m. Saturday