Christian Life throws scare into Shabbona Indian Creek

Matt Trowbridge
Christian Life's Noah Owens puts up a shot between Indian Creek's Drew Gaston, left, and Cooper Larsen during the first quarter of a Class 1A regional game Friday, Feb. 29, 2020, at Rockford Christian Life. [RANDY STUKENBERG/RRSTAR.COM CORRESPONDENT]

ROCKFORD — For 50 glorious seconds, it looked as if Christian Life was going to throw a shock into the IHSA Class 1A boys playoffs by knocking off undefeated Shabbona Indian Creek.

The Eagles stormed back from a 39-24 third-quarter deficit in their own gym to take a 46-45 lead on a layup by Max Morse with 5:19 to play in the fourth quarter. It was the Eagles’ first lead of the game.

“I was thinking about how everything we’d worked on in practice was working,” Christian Life’s Josh Kruse said. “Get back on defense. Don’t let them get second shots and hope our shots keep falling.”

It would be their only lead. The Timberwolves retook the lead with 4:29 to play on two free throws by Cameron Russell. That sparked an 11-2 run that led to a 65-56 regional championship win for the now 33-0 Indian Creek squad.

“(Christian Life) changed things up in the third quarter and did a good job of denying some of the things we like to do,” Indian Creek’s Cooper Larsen said. “We didn’t panic. We started hitting the high post and working our high-low game.”

In the end, the 6-4 Larsen proved to be too much for the Eagles. He had 12 points and two assists in the first half to help the Timberwolves build a 25-16 lead. Christian Life held him to two points in the third quarter during their furious comeback, but he scored 11 in the fourth, including hitting all five of his free throws, as the Timberwolves pulled away.

“We worked really hard on a match-up zone and we played it tonight and I think it bothered (Indian Creek) at times,” Christian Life coach Dennis Myers said. “We’re not a very deep team, and when we lost our point guard (Kyle Darge, who fouled out with seven minutes to play) it really hurt because our normal backup point guard wasn't here tonight.

"But (Indian Creek) is a great team and I wanted us to compete tonight and we competed until the end.”

Christian Life was seeking its 10th regional title in school history. It’ll have to settle for a solid 26-6 season. Kruse led the Eagles with 18 points. Noah Owens added 16 and Blake Burrows had nine.

Indian Creek won its fifth regional title in school history. In addition to Larsen’s 25 points, Drew Gaston had 19 and Russell added 13. The Timberwolves showed championship mettle down the stretch by hitting 15 of 20 free throws in the fourth quarter.

Polo Regional

Dakota 57, Pecatonica 49

Also in Class 1A, Jordan Ayres scored 15 points and Caden Moyer 14 to help Dakota win its 19th consecutive game and set the school record for wins. The Indians (28-4) won 27 games in 2006 (27-1), a year they went undefeated all season in football and wrestling en route to state titles, and the last year they reached state in 1994 (27-4).

“This has been special all year long,” coach Mike Bartelt said.

Dakota looked like it might be in trouble in the third quarter when leading scorer Evan Flynn and forward Josh Clark went to the bench in foul trouble, but Pecatonica could not gain any ground.

“Our bench stepped up big-time and built the lead,” Bartelt said. “That was huge for us.”

Kelton Gann scored 15 points to lead Pecatonica (24-10), which also set its school record for wins, passing its 23-4 mark in 1995. Austin Carlson added 12 points for Pec and sophomore Hunter Hoffman limited Flynn to two field goals. Flynn made seven free throws, many of them in the fourth quarter, to finish with 11 points.

“It was a great year for us,” Pecatonica coach Bobby Heisler said. “We’re disappointed to end the season, but the kids put a lot into it. One of the things we talked a lot about was leaving the program better than you found it and our seniors did that.”

Dakota lost last year’s regional final to Forreston in quadruple overtime, and Heisler think that helped Dakota this year.

“It took awhile for both teams to get settled in,” Heisler said. “It felt like they did first. Credit that to the experience they had last year.”

Pearl City Regional

Lena-Winslow 53, Eastland 29

Isaiah Bruce (16) and Sean Ormiston (12), who led Lena-Winslow (27-7) to two state football titles in the last three years, combined for 28 points to lead the Panthers to only their third regional basketball title in 30 years.

“We were down early, but we tightened it up defensively and made a run in the second quarter,” Le-Win coach Kyle Benson said. “We played even better in the second half. We played every possession as if it mattered the most.

“We mixed up our 2-3 zone with man-to-man. We kept switching throughout the game to keep them off balance. I don’t know if it did that, but we kept switching to make things interesting and the kids executed both of our defenses well.”

Senior center Brock Coatney, who missed Eastland’s last two games with the flu, returned for Friday’s game.

“They had everybody, but I’m not sure they were 100 percent healthy,” Benson said. “I don’t know how (Coatney) could be. He was pretty sick. But he gave it everything he had. They had a few kids sick. I give them credit for getting here.”