DUNLAP – Isaiah Ryan was in the right spot at the right time twice at crunch time, and it was a good thing for the Sterling boys basketball team.
Ryan came up a key steal, and assisted on the game-winning basket as the Golden Warriors hung on for a 48-47 victory against Galesburg on Friday night in the championship game of the Class 3A Dunlap Regional.
Sterling (22-9) advances to the LaSalle-Peru Sectional, where it will take on Peoria Manual on Tuesday night. The Rams beat Morton 48-41 in the Manual Regional final.
“After that game, it’s a relief,” Ryan said. “There was so much adversity we faced. We came out slow in the second half, but it came down to defense. We got down and worked hard, and pulled it out.”
The Golden Warriors led virtually the entire game, but had to withstand a final push from the Silver Streaks. Down 38-31 entering the final quarter, Galesburg (22-11)
caught and passed Sterling, taking a 47-46 lead with 47 seconds to go following a steal and layup by Nicholas Fields – his only basket.
With 25 seconds remaining, Ryan put up a 3-pointer that clanged off the rim, and there was a mad scramble for the rebound. It squirted out to Ryan near the top of the key, and he fed Micah Kendrick down low for a wide-open layup and a 48-47 lead and 19.2 seconds on the clock.
“It was a good rebound by Z,” Kendrick said. “Always follow your shot – little things like that helped us win the game.
“Fortunately he got the rebound, found me under the basket, and I made the layup.”
Galesburg inbounded the ball, and called a timeout with 7.8 seconds on the clock to set up a final play.
On the far sideline, the Silver Streaks’ Andrew Anderson inbounded the ball to Jaylin McCants, only to have it glance off his fingertips at the top of the key and into the waiting hands of Ryan. Sterling had two fouls to give at the time.
“We were actually trying to foul,” Ryan said. “I left my guy, which I actually wasn’t supposed to do. Loose balls, we always talk about getting 50/50 balls, and that helped us again tonight.”
Ryan tried dribbling the ball up the left sideline, but had the ball knocked away in front of the Sterling bench. The referee closest to the play lost his balance and waited a few agonizing seconds before signaling the ball would stay with Sterling and 4.6 seconds on the clock.
“All the Galesburg fans were pointing that way, and we were pointing this way,” Ryan said. “All we could was hope for the best.”
On the ensuing possession, Kendrick was fouled with 3 seconds to go, but missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Galesburg’s McCants got the rebound, took a few dribbles and got off a one-handed attempt from mid-court. It was long and right, and the Warriors could finally celebrate.
It was their 13th consecutive victory, the most by a Sterling boys basketball team since the 1975-76 squad won 15 in a row.
“These kids are special,” Sterling coach Ryan Vasquez said. “To battle for 13 straight wins and the kids to be so coachable, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Kendrick stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, four steals and three rebounds, while Alek Duran added 12 points – eight of which came in the second quarter to stake the Golden Warriors to a 27-18 halftime lead.
Sean Gingrich hit all three of his shots for seven points, while Aidan Shore grabbed a team-high seven boards.
Anderson and Khalil Hodge each scored 15 points for Galesburg.
3A Dunlap Regional final
Sterling 48, Galesburg 47
Star of the game: Micah Kendrick (S), 15 points, 4 steals, 3 rebounds
Key performers: Alek Duran (S), 12 points; Andrew Anderson (G), 15 points, 3 steals
Up next: LaSalle-Peru Sectional semifinal, Sterling vs. Peoria Manual, 7 p.m. Tuesday