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Rockets use 25-6 run to blow past Pioneers at Tabor

ROCK FALLS – More Looney Tunes than Rembrandt. More tattoo parlor than Picasso.

Beauty, though, really was in the eye of the beholder Tuesday in an unconventional continuation of the near-annual classic matchup between Class 3A area boys' basketball rivals Rock Falls and Alleman.

In an uneven contest that featured more fouls (53 combined) than the already over-the-top number of turnovers (45 total), the Rockets used a 25-6 second-half run to rally past the visiting Pioneers, 62-56 in a gritty thriller at Tabor Gym.

Senior point guard Austin Donoho scored 13 of his game-high 22 points in the final period, and Rock Falls (6-17) overcame a nine-point, third-quarter deficit to build a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead, before needing to hold off one final comeback attempt by Alleman (5-16).

The Pioneers roared back to within two points in the closing minute before Rock Falls sophomore James McFadden converted a pair of free throws with 5.6 seconds showing, and senior Cory McCallister followed by stealing the inbounds pass, getting fouled, and hitting two more freebies for the final score.

"It may not have been pretty, but for us, we'll take it any way we can get it," Rock Falls coach Brad Bickett said after the Rockets' first win since Jan. 16 against Stillman Valley.

"With so many fouls called, and such a physical game like that, you just have to grind it out. Against the type of team Alleman is, we just wanted to keep it close and hopefully win it in the fourth quarter, and that's what we did."

Before that, Alleman was in control, with the inside tandem of Ben Graves (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Aaron Murray (14 points, 9 rebounds) nearly posting double-doubles. Kevin O'Keeffe also had 15 points for the Pioneers before fouling out with 3:31 remaining in the fourth quarter.

"This game was typical of how our season's gone, with big momentum swings," Bickett said. "I'm sure both head coaches wish we were better than we showed at this time of the year. But it was a good battle. Both teams played hard.

"We love playing them, because of the league they play in. Our guys are going to get beat up if they don't rise to the occasion. You really have to rebound against them, because they're so physical."

Once Rock Falls figured that (losing the board battle only 38-30) – plus took better care of the ball (committing only six second-half turnovers) – the Rockets took off.

The hosts forced ties at 37 and 39 before taking their first lead of the game at 41-39 inside the fourth quarter's first minute.

The Rockets also kept Alleman from scoring for four crucial fourth-quarter minutes, thanks in large part to the Pioneers missing the front ends of two one-and-one opportunities, plus four more free throws in two other trips to the line.

Alleman lost the turnover battle, 25-20; missed 12 of 23 free-throw attempts; and failed to convert on "six or seven layups we needed to finish on," Alleman coach Pat Rangel lamented after his club's eighth straight setback.

Meanwhile, Donoho made 14 fourth-quarter trips to the stripe, converting on eight freebies to finish 12-for-22 at the line overall. Jacob Mammosser added 12 points for the hosts.

"They made some plays late, and it was our turn to miss some free throws," Bickett said. "It was a crazy game between two desperate teams playing really, really hard.

"We know they play in the Western Big 6. But we'd like to think our league is pretty good, too, with Winnebago and Byron and Rockford Lutheran and Mendota. It was a good measuring stick to see where we are at with a 3A ball club going into regionals in a few weeks. 

"We needed to build some [playoff] momentum, because we haven't had a whole lot go right for us this year. So it was nice to win our last home game."

The Rockets learn their postseason fate Thursday, when seeds are announced for the LaSalle-Peru Regional.

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