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Golden Warriors ready to play underdog card

Jim Preston appreciates history. The Sterling boys basketball coach will be reaching back into recent history to motivate his Golden Warriors heading into next week's 3A LaSalle-Peru Regional.

The first lesson: Playing favorites doesn't always work.

A year ago, the Mendota Trojans came into the Rock Falls Regional as the No. 4 seed. All the Trojans did was beat Sterling (63-60), before knocking off the top-seed Rockets (70-57), and then winning the regional over the No. 3 seed LaSalle-Peru Cavaliers (67-56).

Last year's regional included Ottawa as the No. 2 seed. The Pirates have moved up to Class 4A, but the other five teams return to vie for the title.

This year, it is Mendota that comes in as the top seed. They, along with Dixon, appear to be the favorites heading into the week. It's Preston's hope that the No. 3 Warriors (9-14) can play the role of spoiler.

"I think it is going to be a very competitive regional," Preston said. "We played a lot of close games, and they have learned a lot. We saw what Mendota did last year. It's all about putting it together at the right time."

The Warriors won't be the only team looking to end the season on a high note. Like the Warriors, Rock Falls has been on the wrong side of a lot of close games.

The Rockets (7-20) appear to be turning things around. On Tuesday, the Rockets lost to Mendota 66-64 in overtime. Rock Falls opens the regional against LaSalle-Peru (10-15). The Cavaliers have hit some tough times, but have the weapons to make a run.

Most notably, the Cavs rely on shooters Noah Lamboley and Brady Huebbe.

"When Lamboley and Huebbe get going, they can be a really tough team," Preson said. "They've struggled some, but I wouldn't count them out."

The second lesson that Preston will relay to his team is that they are playing the Dixon Dukes for the third time this season. The Dukes have won the first two meetings.

The last time the Dukes beat Sterling three times in one season was the 2009-10 season when Dixon had future Chicago State star Matt Ross patrolling the paint.

"Dixon has had a very good season," Preston said, "and they deserve the success they have had.

"The thing we have to take from those two losses is that we played them tough as nails both times. The first game came down to them making one more play than us. The second game, they had two players in Laron Carr and Isaiah Roby, who just decided they were going to take over the game."

Dixon will be looking to continue a season that already has historical implications.

The Dukes won 20 games for just the third time in school history. They'll be looking to win a regional for the first time since 1986.

Dixon has wins over all the teams at the regional except for Mendota. The Dukes lost 55-52 to Mendota in January.

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