LaSALLE – The Dixon Dukes completed a season sweep of the Sterling Golden Warriors, and did so with seasons on the line.
A grind-it-out style of game favored the Dukes, who won 50-39 Tuesday night in their LaSalle-Peru Regional semifinal matchup.
A defensive-oriented game favored the Golden Warriors early on, as a basket by sophomore Sterling Thornton gave Sterling an 11-6 lead lead 2 minutes into the second quarter.
“We played good defense,” Sterling coach Jim Preston said. “Our offense struggled early, and never really got on track tonight.”
Dixon senior Cal Jarrett contributed nine points to a 15-6 second quarter run that gave his team a 21-17 lead at halftime.
“Our biggest adjustment was just recognizing how much they were sagging in the lane,” Dixon coach Jason Mead said. “For some reason, we were timid to shoot it, and then once we started to figure out that we had to make some shots, and rebound against their sag, then we were able to make a run.”
Out of the locker room, the teams exchanged baskets. Isaiah Roby was a main force for Dixon (22-6), and he added three baskets and a free throw to help build up a 30-23 lead halfway through the third.
The Golden Warriors (10-15) mounted a collective comeback. An and-one layup from Thornton was followed up by a pair of baskets from senior Draque Penaflor-Heier to bring the team within two, at 32-30.
“We didn’t want our season to end,” Sterling senior Zach Rehmert said. “We knew that if we could make something happen, we would have a chance to win, and that happened.”
An 11-0 run for the Dukes then ensued, from the 3:25 mark of the third quarter all the way until the 2:56 mark of the fourth.
“It was just hustle, “ Roby said. “We were just out-hustling them during that run. It started that run, and I think we should play that way every game.
“We were focused on where we needed to be on offense. We needed to execute to make it not so close of a game. The past two games we have played bad, and it made them closer than what they needed to be. We just focused on executing our stuff and getting better.”
A pair of 3s from Rehmert broke the quarter-long scoring drought for Sterling, and instilled life into his team. It also cut the Dixon lead to 47-36 with a 2 minutes to play.
But when he went to hoist up a third attempt, he ran into some trouble.
That trouble was Roby’s lengthy arms, as he blocked the shot that could have made it a single-digit game. Instead, it turned into a pair of free throws for Jarrett, who sank both to ultimately put the game out of reach at 49-36 with 1:15 left.
“You have to win with defense,” Mead said. “That’s been an emphasis for us all year, to keep teams under 45 points. We held them to 39. That is what won us the game, because there sure wasn’t a lot of offense.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times. They’re a better team than what their record indicates, and they’re well-coached. It’s a testament to our kids that they did what they needed to do to earn the right to play on Friday.”
Sterling is left wondering what could have been.
“I thought our defense in general tonight was good enough to win the basketball game,” Preston said. “They did some things defensively that took us out of what we wanted to do. We got some good looks, but they just didn’t go down tonight. Some nights are like that.
“I think the three seniors did a good job this year, coming out and competing. They showed the younger kids what it was like to come out and compete night in and night out exceptionally.”