ROVA's 1948-49 team, Part 4: ‘We’re going to beat Galesburg next week’

Barry McNamara
Special to The Register-Mail
ROVA coach Jim Pogue gives instructions to five of his team members from the 1948-49 team. From left are Clark Main, Jim Asplund, Bob Seiler, Harley Pearson and Dean Truelove.

So-called “bulletin board” material is an element usually associated with professional sports, but 20 years before quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed a victory in Super Bowl III for his upstart New York Jets against the old school Baltimore Colts, ROVA player Bob Milroy made a similarly bold statement.

“The week before we played Galesburg (in the Galesburg Regional), we were having a team meeting, and a newspaper guy was there,” said ROVA star Dean Truelove. “Bob Milroy said, ‘We’re going to beat Galesburg next week.’ The reporter said, ‘No, you ain’t going to beat Galesburg. I’ll take the whole team out for supper in the Quad Cities if you beat Galesburg.’”

Technically, Milroy’s declaration violated not one, but two long-standing rules in sports interviews, as he also wasn’t taking things one game at a time. To earn the right to play against Galesburg, ROVA still had to post a first-round regional win over Williamsfield. The Bombers, who already had three losses against the Tigers, put up their best fight of the four contests, but ROVA prevailed 59-54, led by 12 points for Jim Asplund and 10 for Bob Heflin.

On a side note, the state tournament in those days had a wrinkle that no longer exists. Many teams, including ROVA and Galesburg, automatically qualified for regional play. But others had to compete in a district tournament for the right to advance to the regional. Falling into that category for the 1948-49 season were such now-defunct western Illinois schools as Mineral, Lyndon, Coal Valley, Cordova and Atkinson.

Entering postseason play, ROVA was not unbeaten, but it was accurate to say that the Tigers had defeated every school they played. ROVA’s four losses to that point – in order, to Abingdon, AlWood, Orion and Galva – all came against schools that the Tigers had also beaten. The wins over Abingdon and Galva were especially sweet since they came in tournament championship games.

The Galesburg Regional was comprised of the host school, Williamsfield and ROVA, as well as Knoxville, Abingdon, Princeville, Corpus Christi and Wataga.

ROVA’s victory over Williamsfield hadn’t exactly been convincing, but that didn’t stop the Tigers from getting off to a hot start against the Streaks in the regional semi-final. Playing in their own Steele Gym, Galesburg was forced to call a whopping four time-outs by the time the second quarter was just two minutes old.

Despite being caught off guard by a team from a much smaller school, Galesburg never fell too far behind. In fact, the Streaks held leads of one or two points at each of the three quarter breaks, including 32-31 entering the final period.

“We played a pretty decent game,” said Truelove. “It was low-scoring, and I didn’t play like I should have,” scoring just four points.

“We were behind in the fourth quarter,” recalled Asplund. “But we played pretty good defense, and we were quicker than most teams.”

Two baskets by sophomore Bill Holcomb pushed ROVA ahead 37-32, and Galesburg never got within a possession again. ROVA hung on for a 46-41 victory, led by Bob Seiler’s 11 points. Heflin and Harley Pearson both added nine.

“That reporter took us to the Blackhawk Hotel,” said Truelove of cashing in on Milroy’s prediction. “It was a really good buffet.”

Had Truelove been asked to predict the winner of ROVA versus Galesburg, he wouldn’t have been as sure as his teammate.

“We had a pretty good team, but we sure didn’t think we’d beat Galesburg,” he said.

“Coach Pogue was quoted saying we didn’t care if we played another game after we beat Galesburg,” said Asplund.

Register-Mail sports reporter Leo Sullivan wrote “the Tigers’ height bothered the Streaks ... (ROVA) got most of the first-half rebounds” and “played a bang-up game from start to finish. ... Only the most rabid die-hard GHS partisan would dispute the statement that in last night’s opening game, the better team won.”

Up next was what Sullivan called a “mighty good” Princeville team, led by Moe Schafer, who scored 20 points or more in each of the three regional games.

The title tilt was tied 13 times, and ROVA, for the second game in a row, faced a fourth-quarter deficit after squandering a trio of five-point, third-quarter leads.

“They led more than we did,” said Asplund.

But after Schafer put the Princes ahead 45-42, ROVA finished the game on a 7-1 run. A Heflin free throw and a basket by Holcomb tied the game at 45-45. Heflin snapped the tie with a basket and, following a Princeville free throw with a minute to go, Asplund notched the final two points of the game for a 49-46 ROVA victory.

In keeping with its season-long trend of being well-balanced on offense, ROVA was led in scoring by a different player in each of its three regional wins – Asplund, Seiler and 13 for Truelove against Princeville. Heflin was among the scoring leaders, too, notching 11 in the championship game to give him an even 10.0 average for the three regional wins.

Next up was the Canton Sectional, which included a Monmouth Zippers team that had soundly defeated Galesburg earlier in the season. It did not include the host school, Canton. The Little Giants, a regular contender to advance downstate, were upset in the regional round by the newly consolidated Spoon River Valley High School, which at the time consisted of former players from the small school districts of Ellisville, Fairview and London Mills.

ROVA, still giddy over its victory against Galesburg, no doubt entered the four-team sectional with a “just happy to be here” attitude. The Rio, Oneida, Victoria, Altona aggregation would soon be even happier.