LaSALLE – Chants of “Anderson” from the Rock Falls student section flooded the rafters. Though the Rockets had just lost their 3A LaSalle-Peru Regional semifinal game 59-48 to Mendota, the spirit of both team and its fans was not broken.
“It’s great,” senior guard Austin Donoho said. “The win [Monday] night was huge for the community, and I think it brought everyone that much closer together. Such a tragic event happened. It just brings us all together, and it was great for the community – because it’s bigger than basketball.”
Rock Falls (8-21) started off the game on fire, hitting its first four shots from behind the 3-point arc. Three of them belonged to freshman Logan Pillars.
This electrified the atmosphere for the game for the Rocket faithful, who made an even stronger showing than Monday.
“That was all the kids,” Rockets head coach Brad Bickett said. “They were passionate, and they were excited to play Mendota. They were excited to advance, and we were pretty good for the first quarter.”
The second quarter turned into a different story.
Foul trouble haunted Rock Falls, and six players picked up at least two fouls. This put a dent in the Rockets’ offense, and allowed Mendota to climb right back into the game. A 24-10 lead after one quarter quickly turned into a 27-23 lead at halftime.
“We might’ve expended about all of our energy in that first quarter,” Bickett said. “We were tired, and that led to poor free throws, and maybe some of our poor shooting in general. You’re not always going to shoot the ball like you did in the first quarter, but that was sure fun to watch.
“I compliment our guys. They played their hearts out and left it all out there.”
The third quarter turned into a showdown between Rock Falls senior Austin Donoho and Mendota junior James Carroll. For a 2-minute span, they took turns exchanging baskets for their teams, and accounting for 18 points in the quarter between the two of them.
But it was Carroll’s Trojans who grabbed a 38-36 lead going into the fourth.
“We started off well,” Donoho said. “We had a lot of intensity coming out of the locker room, and hit some shots. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t good enough.”
In the fourth, the Rockets put up a good fight. But a tired defense broke a bit, and Mendota took advantage to take the lead for good. A 3 from Donoho brought his team within a point, 43-42, at the 5:30 mark of the fourth.
But a relentless Trojan defense and offensive attack spelled the worse for the Rockets, as Mendota outscored them 17-7 over the final 5 minutes.
“They never gave up,” said Mendota coach Jan Thompson of the Rockets. “[Coach Bickett] really gets those kids to play hard. Our coaches kept calling them bulldogs, and I agree with that. They were go, go, go. We started to claw back when we kept them in front of us, and started boxing out better. James kind of took over for us in the second and third quarter, and when he went, we all went with him.”
“Our defensive rotation was just slow, and guys couldn’t move,” Bickett said. “I wasn’t as worried about the missed shots, or how tired we were. It was our defense.”
Class 3A LaSalle-Peru Regional semifinal
Mendota 59, Rock Falls 48
Star of the game: James Carroll, Mendota, 21 points
Key performers: Austin Donoho, RF, 18 points; Mark Prescott, Mendota, 14 points
Up next: Class 3A LaSalle-Peru Regional final, Mendota vs. Dixon, 7 p.m. Friday