By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
The Rockford East E-Rabs ended their senior night with a complete microcosm of everything the senior class had gone through in four years.
Playing against Rockton Hononegah, the E-Rabs got off to a quick start and led after the first quarter. Much in the same way as freshmen four years ago, the E-Rabs won their conference tournament in complete anonymity while the varsity team did not win a game.
The middle of the game was rough, as the Hononegah Indians built their lead up to 9 and looked to be running away. As sophomores, many of the same E-Rabs were forced to the varsity level, where they won one game in conference the entire season.
A late rally allowed East to send the game to overtime against the only conference team Head Coach Roy Sackmaster had not yet beat. As juniors, East turned a mediocre year into something special with a run to the sectional semifinals.
The E-Rabs ran away in overtime, topping Hononegah 66-59 to move into a tie with the Indians for third place in the conference. And the E-Rabs hope to ride that momentum for some time.
“Finishing on a note like that, you just take a ton of momentum heading into the postseason,” Sackmaster said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our kids.”
East has several younger players, juniors or sophomores, who contribute on the varsity team. But seniors like Steve McNease, Javon Henderson, Andrew Lantz and Darshawn Pumphrey-King have laid the foundation for the program-changing victory.
“They were clutch,” McNease, who grabbed 16 rebounds and scored 17 points, said of his senior teammates. “We’re all seniors, so we had to get it done. It was our last time playing on this court. We’re trying to make a statement this year. That’s all I’m worried about.”
With the playoffs in full swing, East hopes to make a further run than they made last season. But regardless of where they go, this senior class will be one that is remembered at East for a long time.
“This class will be remembered as the ones that got East back to what it once was,” Sackmaster said. “Because of them, we start winning games. Now, people want to be a part of this program, when forever they were doing everything they could to get out of here. Without them, we’re not going to be able to have the future success that we’re going to have.”
Around the NIC-10:
• With seven of 10 teams finishing the season above .500 overall in the regular season, it is tough to really point out a single great coaching job. Whether it is Bryan Ott leading Rockford Auburn with a target on their back, Mike Winters replacing a legend at Rockford Boylan Catholic or Jeff Zick overcoming distractions at Freeport for a third-place finish.
But it is hard to overlook the job Aaron Pearson has done at Belvidere. A 7-9 conference record and 16-10 overall is good, but doesn’t sound great.
But the depth and talent Pearson has developed, at a school most considered a football-only school, is nothing short of impressive. Not only do the Bucs have a good shot at a regional title, but they will enter next season among the favorites for a conference title.
• Fred Van Vleet at Auburn is the obvious choice for a repeat as the Most Valuable Player for the NIC-10. But the depth of the conference makes it hard to come up with an all-conference team this season.
McNease, Pumphrey-King and Henderson at East, LaMark Foote at Auburn, Carlos Hendrix of Hononegah, Adonis Brown of Boylan, Luke Norman at Freeport, Quinten Canty and Kane Steger at Belvidere, Justin Van Wambeke of Machesney Park Harlem, LT Davis of Rockford Jefferson and Jake Boxleitner of Belvidere North all could lay claim to a spot on the all-conference team.
It was a guard-heavy season in the NIC-10. McNease has earned a spot on the team as the best big man in the conference and the second-best player in the conference behind Van Vleet. But narrowing down the rest of the field will be difficult when the season is done, and the postseason could go a long way to determine the final team.
From the Feb. 29-March 6, 2012, issue