Prep Basketball: Belvidere, East win thrillers, will meet March 2 for regional crown
By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
MARENGO, Ill. — Even as his team was falling behind by 13 in the first half, Joe Byers was doing much of the heavy lifting for his Belvidere Bucs.
Every time it looked as though Crystal Lake Central was about to run away with the game, the sophomore guard would knock down a big shot to keep distance. In all, Byers had scored 15 of the team’s 29 points in the first half.
Byers put in 5 more points in the third quarter. Despite hitting his only bucket in the fourth quarter right at the start of the quarter with his team down 54-50, Byers knocked down a 3, took hard contact, made the free throw and gave his team the shot in the arm it needed, fighting back from that 13-point deficit to tie the game.
“That got us jump started,” Byers said of his 4-point play. “It’s a big play late in the game. I was looking at it from the ground. I was more focused on telling the ref I got fouled.”
From there, his teammates picked him up, including late free throws from Quinten Canty and Josh Hauser. After the Tigers two late 3-point attempts fell short, Belvidere had moved on to the regional finals with a 69-66 win.
Things didn’t start well for the Bucs. Chase Cane and Corban Murphy put on a shooting display early in the game, as Crystal Lake Central built up their lead.
But while Murphy and Cane combined for 37 points, most of those came in the first half before the Belvidere defense stiffened. Kyle Fleck did hit his last five shots on his way to 18 points, but late foul trouble limited his effectiveness.
For the Bucs, defense and rebounding were the keys. Six fourth-quarter turnovers played a big key in the decisive run.
Belvidere also outrebounded the Tigers by 13, including a plus-9 rebounding edge in the second half. Much of that damage was done on the offensive glass by Kane Steger, who scored 11 of his 16 in the second half.
The Bucs will move on to face Rockford East Friday, March 2. And Byers said they hope to win this championship for their entire community.
“Even though we were down, we still worked really hard,” he said. “We never gave up. We want to win this regional for the town. We got a lot motivating us.”
East 73, Freeport 62
Like a lot of Rockford East’s games, it wasn’t always the prettiest offensive display you will see on a basketball court.
But Steve McNease and his E-Rabs teammates overwhelmed the Freeport Pretzels on the glass on their way to a 73-62 regional semifinal victory.
McNease scored 23 points, 19 in the second half, and picked up 13 offensive rebounds against Freeport. Javon Henderson chipped in 18 points and several late offensive rebounds of his own.
“We often have it where we can’t throw it in the ocean from 2 feet away,” East Head Coach Roy Sackmaster said. “So, when we can get four or five shots at it, at this level, hopefully someone is going to make it.”
East seemed poised to take a 4-point lead into the half when the Pretzels’ Carl Braddock hit a half-court shot at the second-quarter buzzer to bring his team to within 1.
“We had it happen against us last year against Belvidere North in the regional,” Sackmaster said. “I went in (at halftime) and said ‘Look, guys, absolutely everything went in their favor and we’re still winning by 1.’ We just relaxed. Our kids have been through so much and they’re battle-tested with what we went through last year and we never panicked.”
Luke Norman did his best in his final high school game to keep the Pretzels in it. He scored a game-high 34 points, 22 of those coming in the second half, to keep his team close.
But East was too aggressive for the Pretzels, drawing fouls and knocking down 8 of 12 late free throws to put away the victory.
Auburn 66, Harlem 46
In the class 4A regional at Rockford Auburn, senior Auburn guard Fred Van Vleet scored 26 points as the Knights cruised to the regional final 66-46.
Machesney Park Harlem jumped on the Knights early, leading 12-7 after the first quarter. But as they have all year, Auburn turned up the defensive pressure.
Auburn outscored the Huskies 41-13 in the middle two quarters as they cruised to victory.
LaMark Foote also scored 16 for Auburn, while Justin Van Wambeke led Harlem with 17. Auburn will face the winner of the Rockford Boylan Catholic-Rockton Hononegah matchup Friday, March 2.
Lutheran 57, Byron 48
In the IHSA Class 2A South Beloit sectional semifinals, the fourth time was the charm for Rockford Lutheran against Byron.
The previously undefeated Byron Tigers had knocked off Lutheran three times this season, the third time on a last-second bucket. But four was too much to ask, as the Crusaders ran away for a surprising 57-48 victory.
Alex Oates had one of his best games of the season at the best time. The senior scored 17 points and knocked down three 3-pointers in the victory.
Posted Feb. 29, 2012
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