ROCK FALLS — An area team will win the Class 3A Rock Falls Regional.
The Mendota boys basketball team made sure of that Wednesday night.
The No. 4-seeded Trojans upset No. 1 Rock Falls 70-57 in Wednesday’s first semifinal, ensuring an all-local final.
“It’s huge,” Mendota sophomore James Carroll said about advancing to the title game. “We haven’t won a regional championship in Mendota for 14 years. We’re really excited.”
In the second semifinal, No. 3 La Salle-Peru routed No. 2 Ottawa 73-49 for the Cavaliers’ third win of the season over the rival Pirates.
“We set that goal (of reaching a regional final) early in the season as many other teams do,” L-P coach Jim Cherveny said. “Now we’ve put ourselves in position to reach another goal for our team.”
The Cavs (18-9) and Trojans (18-12) will meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“It’s been this way all year, I think our size will be an advantage and our senior leadership,” Mendota coach Jan Thompson said. “We have four guys who start who have been together for a long time, and (sophomore) James Carroll who’s been with that group of guys as a brother of Evan. Our maturity and experience really will help down the stretch. We’ll see what happens though.”
Cherveny expects a tough matchup with Mendota.
“Mendota’s a great team,” Cherveny said. “They play physical. They’re smart — probably the smartest team I’ve seen. (Austin) O’Sadnick is one of the best players I’ve seen down low. (James) Carroll’s one of the best guards I’ve seen playing this year. They’re very well put together. They’re very well coached. They’re going to be tough to beat.”
Mendota 70, Rock Falls 57
The Trojans lost twice to the Rockets in Big Northern Conference West Division play this season, so Thompson and his staff altered the defensive game plan.
In order to prevent Rock Falls point guard Alex Leaf from getting to the basket or driving and kicking out, the Trojans played what Thompson called a “2-35 zone.”
Mendota played a 2-3 zone until the first pass of the possession. At that point, the Trojans turned to man-to-man defense.
“He’s so quick in penetration and was just so deadly against us,” Thompson said. “Ultimately, what we were doing was getting the ball out of his hands and matching up from there. We felt we could match up from there. We just felt like when he has a full head of steam coming down the floor, we were having a hard time stopping him from getting to the basket or kicking out.”
Leaf was limited to six points and just two trips to the free throw line on which he shot 0-for-3, and the Rockets made 6-of-20 3-pointers.
Mendota also controlled the glass as the Trojans outrebounded Rock Falls 43-21.
“One goal we started with was we wanted to win the rebound war every night,” Thompson said. “We think with Trae (Blumhorst) and Austin (O’Sadnick) in there, there really isn’t a reason we shouldn’t win the rebound war most nights, and they did a great job on that.”
Offensively, the Trojans got the ball to Blumhorst and O’Sadnick down low while also relying on the penetration of James Carroll.
Mendota trailed 34-32 at halftime but outscored the Rockets 19-13 in the third quarter behind 11 points from James Carroll and six from Blumhorst.
“I was just looking for open lanes to get to the basket and get to the free throw line,” said Carroll, who scored a game-high 22 points.
Unlike Monday’s quarterfinal when they struggled from the free throw line, the Trojans closed out the game in the fourth quarter from the charity stripe.
Mendota made 15-of-20 from the line in the fourth.
“I was a little disappointed in our free throw shooting last time as were the guys,” Thompson said. “They said, ‘Coach, it won’t happen again. We’ll make sure we come out and take care of business,’ which they did. They did a very nice job. I expected that.”
La Salle-Peru 73, Ottawa 49
Cherveny felt playing in Monday’s quarterfinal benefited the Cavaliers on Wednesday.
“It’s nice being able to play that Monday game and get a little bit of experience on the court and with the rims and how the gym plays a little bit,” Cherveny said. “I think that’s a key coming in for your second game. We used that to our advantage tonight.”
The Cavs certainly seemed comfortable shooting in Tabor Gymnasium.
L-P shot 50.9 percent from the floor, including 52.2 percent from 3-point range.
In the first half, the Cavs knocked down 16-of-22 shots from the floor and 9-of-14 from 3-point range.
Freshman Brady Huebbe sank three 3-pointers in the first half, Noah Lamboley and Jens Soderholm drained two each and Kyle Jenkins and Jon VonBehren each hit one.
“It’s big because that’s mainly what we do,” Huebbe said about the outside shooting.
While the Cavs shot 72.7 percent in the first half, the Pirates managed to shoot just 20 percent, which allowed L-P to build a 41-16 halftime advantage.
“L-P played well and shot really well the first half,” Ottawa coach Mark Cooper said. “I thought we had some shots, too. If we make a few of ours and they miss a couple of theirs, the game maybe doesn’t get away from us, but basketball is a game of makes and misses, and they shot so well the first half that it made things really difficult for us.”
L-P had four players in double figures led by Soderholm’s 17. Lamboley finished with 15 points, while Huebbe and VonBehren each added 11.
J.D. Bryant led the Pirates with 14 points. Ottawa finishes 22-6.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_Editor.