ROVA's 1948-49 team, Part 3: ROVA edges Galva, Abingdon to win pair of tourney titles

Barry McNamara
Special to The Register-Mail
Harley Pearson (23) and Bob Heflin (35) battle each other for a rebound against Princeville, while Jim Asplund (25) looks on.

Editor's Note: This is the third of a six-part series on the ROVA 1948-49 basketball season.

Not only was tournament host Galva on a winning streak to start the 1948-49 season, but the Wildcats had also won their holiday event the past three years.

A capacity crowd saw the hometown heroes jump out to an 8-0 lead, and it appeared that a fourth straight title was in the works.

Throw in the fact that ROVA’s leading scorer, Dean Truelove, was held to just two points, and that two other starters, Bob Heflin and Jim Asplund, scored just two points between them, and the odds were heavily stacked in Galva’s favor.

“It was a tough game,” said Truelove.

But ROVA eventually found its footing, using a 17-4 run to take a five-point halftime lead. Galva charged back to lead late in the third quarter, but a hoop by Clark Main, who finished with 10 points, gave the Tigers a 23-22 edge entering the final period.

With the fourth quarter winding down, Galva had the ball and a one-point lead. The Wildcats hoped to stall away the final minute, but ROVA got the ball back, and Bob Seiler made two free throws with 35 seconds left to push the Tigers ahead 31-30. It was the last of Seiler’s team-best 15-point effort.

“Seiler looked clumsy sometimes, but he could get it done,” said Asplund.

The drama wasn’t finished. Galva didn’t score on its ensuing possession, and Truelove got free in the paint.

“Late in the game, I missed a layup, but Heflin put it back in,” he recalled.

It was Heflin’s only points, but it sealed the 33-30 outcome. The Register-Mail headline read “R.O.V.A.: Cops Galva Invitational.”

ROVA started the new year riding that momentum, winning its first three games of 1949 by an average of 34 points. Asplund scored a season-high 21 points in a 62-29 win over Alexis, Claude Boland had 17 as the Tigers lapped La Fayette 70-25 and Asplund and Heflin led a balanced attack in a 59-34 victory over Williamsfield.

Up next was another new school in western Illinois, the AlWood Aces, and their star player, Art Nelson.

“Art was a big horse,” said Asplund.

The Register-Mail called Nelson “a slick scorer.”

The Galva News called it an “upset” after AlWood emerged with a 46-35 victory.

“Our confidence was a gradual thing,” said Truelove. “Every time we’d think we were real good, we’d get whomped.”

Following a 58-51 win over Wataga that saw Truelove and Boland combine for 29 points, ROVA’s next action was the Knox County tournament. The team’s confidence was restored as it won all three games, beating Yates City 70-32 and Williamsfield 54-32 to set up a rematch with Abingdon. The first two games were played on the same day, thanks to a postponement due to road conditions. Asplund led the way with 19 and 15 points, sharing scoring honors against Williamsfield with Truelove.

The tale of the tape entering the title tilt favored neither team. Oneida High School, without the benefit of players from Altona and Victoria, had won the last three Knox County titles, including the year before against Wataga. But Abingdon already owned a victory over ROVA earlier in the season.

“The Knox County championship game against Abingdon was my best game of the year,” said Truelove. “I ended up with 21 points, and we beat Eldon Gearhart, my old coach.”

In a story titled “R.O.V.A. Cops County Cage Title,” the Register-Mail’s Joe Morrissey wrote: “ROVA’s speed against Abingdon’s height is a good way to describe the game except for the fact that this does not include the amazing shooting ability the Rovans demonstrated last night. ... (Harley) Pearson was nothing short of uncanny as he uncorked a hook shot while falling away from the basket, which was next to impossible to stop. Besides his shooting ability, he was constantly taking rebounds away from much larger Abingdon players.”

Morrissey also referred to Main as a “diminutive” guard with “deadly accuracy” and saved his highest praise for Truelove.

“Truelove was constantly in the Commandos’ hair, both by his scoring and all-around floor play,” he wrote. “It was Truelove’s scoring in the last few minutes that iced up the affair.”

ROVA pulled away late to win 53-43. The Tigers did so with three players benched with five fouls apiece – Asplund, Main and Pearson. The latter two had combined for 27 points before fouling out.

By that point in the season, ROVA had settled on a seven-man rotation, which Asplund detailed.

“The guards were Clark Main and Dean, the forwards were Harley Pearson and me, and Bob Heflin played center. Bill Holcomb would come in at guard for Clark or Dean, and Bob Seiler would come in at forward for me or Harley.”

Additionally, Boland, who stood 6 feet tall, saw action at center when the 6-4 Heflin needed a breather.

Revenge games made up half of the remaining six regular season contests. ROVA avenged its earlier loss to AlWood, topping the Aces 59-51 in a game that saw the Tigers trail by four at halftime. Asplund’s 15 points led three Tigers in double figures.

ROVA also routed La Fayette and Gladstone and edged Cambridge 41-40.

The other two “revenge” results went against the Tigers. Orion posted a 55-49 victory in ROVA’s third-to-last regular season contest. The finale, which had been postponed from January, was against Galva.

The neighboring small school powers once again drew a raucous crowd – so raucous, in fact, that a fight in the stands of the “jam-packed gym” led to $50 fines for two Galva youths.

Their wallets might’ve been lighter, but those youths at least had bragging rights by the end of the night, as the Wildcats pulled away in the second half to win 62-47. Galva star Dick Wickstrand scored 22 points and Jack Lindbloom added 15.

The neighboring schools then headed in opposite directions, with 20-2 Galva assigned to the Kewanee Regional, where the Wildcats would ultimately fall to the Boilermakers in the title game. Meanwhile, ROVA traveled west for the Galesburg Regional.