By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
The recent trend for college sports is to give a theme to a weekend slate of games. Following that trend, the past weekend was about separation in the NIC-10 while this upcoming weekend is about championship hopes.
What had seemed as one of the most wide-open conference races in recent memory quickly morphed into a two-team race.
Rockton Hononegah made the first statement of the weekend. The Indians went on the road to Rockford Boylan Catholic, dominated for three quarters, then survived a late flurry to hold on for a 52-49 win over the Titans.
Carlos Hendrix led an impressive first-half performance, scoring 10 of his 13 in the opening frame as the Indians pushed their lead to double digits. Coach Mike Miller has begun using Anthony Misuraca at the point, taking Hendrix off the ball, which has helped open up the offense.
The Indians also were impressive on the defensive end, holding Boylan to 20 first-half points and keeping the Titans off the free-throw line, where they normally do most of their damage.
Rockford Auburn, after having a night off Friday, Jan. 27, was not to be outdone. Hosting a feisty Freeport team, which knocked off Hononegah earlier in the season, the Knights raced out to a 24-2 first-quarter lead and extended it to 49-19 at the half on their way to an 82-44 win over the Pretzels.
The Pretzels came in determined to shut down senior guard Fred Van Vleet and were able to hold him to 7 points. But the crafty guard helped set up his teammates, and Elijah Smith scored 19, and LaMark Foote scored 16 to lead the way for Auburn.
What this sets up is a massive Saturday night showdown Feb. 4 at Auburn between the Knights and the Indians. As it stands, Hononegah trails Auburn by one game, despite being the only team to knock off the Knights in the conference.
“Forget the postseason, right now you are playing for a conference championship,” Auburn Head Coach Bryan Ott said. “Every season you are trying to play for that, and it’s important to win your league. Winning in the postseason is just icing.”
And with regional seedings set to be announced, both teams will find their path to a potential rematch in a regional final. While the top seed will likely get either Machesney Park Harlem or Rockford Guilford, the second seed will likely see Boylan again before playing a regional final.
“We could see them anyway in the regional,” Ott said of the Titans and Indians. “But you would rather see them in the regional final rather than the regional semifinals.”
The middle of the NIC-10 race has certainly heated up as well. Belvidere sits a half game behind Boylan for third after getting a tip-in by Joe Byers at the buzzer to knock off a hot Rockford Jefferson team 59-57.
Rockford East came back from 18 down to knock off Harlem on an Andrew Lantz buzzer-beater. After topping Guilford the next night, the E-Rabs sit at 5-4 in the conference, tied with Freeport and right on Boylan’s heels.
And despite Jefferson’s tough loss to Belvidere, they did knock off Belvidere North the night before and sit at 5-5 in the conference now after a 2-4 start to the season.
“I don’t think there is a big difference between the second-place team and the 10th-place team,” Jefferson Head Coach Todd Brannan said. “Most of the scores are 10 points or less. That’s a rebound, a loose ball or a couple of free throws.”
From the Feb. 1-7, 2012, issue