The Okawville Rockets have been ranked among the top Class 1A teams in the state all season.
Currently No. 2 in the 1A state rankings, they open the playoffs this week as heavy favorites at the Valmeyer Regional — but also with a lot of pressure.
The Rockets (26-3) are 101-26 over the last four seasons with University of Evansville recruit and all-time scoring leader Noah Frederking in the lineup. They have won two regional titles and one sectional title, but trying to make the school’s first boys state basketball tournament trip since 1987 has been a difficult road.
Last year, the Rockets were knocked out by Gibault in the sectional final. The year before it was a super-sectional loss to eventual 1A state champ Brimfield and during Frederking’s freshman year, the Rockets were eliminated in the regional final by Gibault.
“We’ve been in some tough spots with Gibault and Madison, and Brimfield won a state championship,” Okawville coach Jon Kraus said. “But that’s how it should be. When you get to the postseason and regional, sectional and super-sectional championships they should be tough games.”
Okawville enters the playoffs with a nine-game winning streak and two huge recent victories. The Rockets ended 3A state-ranked Central’s 21-game winning streak Friday with a 60-58 victory on a last-second shot by Caleb Frederking and earlier knocked off highly regarded Bloomington Central Catholic 56-34 at the Riverton Shootout.
It’s his last go-around, this is it. With all the great things that he’s done, I’m sure that he wants to add one more little trip to the state tournament to that resume.
Okawville coach Jon Kraus talking about senior Noah Frederking
Led by Noah Frederking (22.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game) and fellow senior Shane Ganz (13.2 ppg), the Rockets feel they have the talent to make a deep playoff run. Frederking wasn’t on the Okawville baseball team that made back-to-back state tourney trips, so he’d like to create some state memories for himself.
“I think that he’s ready for this,” Kraus said. “Last year he didn’t have one of his normal, typical Noah games in the sectional championship and Gibault did an outstanding job of guarding him. I think that bothered him through the summer and he felt like maybe he let some guys down.
“It’s his last go-around — this is it. With all the great things that he’s done, I’m sure that he wants to add one more little trip to the state tournament to that resume.”
Does Kraus feel this team faces a little extra playoff pressure to make something happen?
“I don’t know if the kids do or not,” he said. “I know they’re excited about the postseason. They’ve gone through the regular season looking forward to it, to try to get back to that situation again. Knowing we’ve got the sectional at home helps a little bit. If we can get out of our regional and get home in our sectional, hopefully things will go well.”
Frederking (45 3-pointers) and junior Payten Harre (6.7 ppg, 40 3-pointers) give the Rockets strong outside threats, though Frederking can score from anywhere. Junior Caleb Frederking (6.2 ppg) and 6-5 senior Kirklen Meier (5.2 ppg) add scoring depth.
“I’ve told our guys it takes a lot of luck. You’ve got to be good, but you’ve got to have luck,” Kraus said about his team’s playoff goals. “It’s difficult and our kids have found that out. They’ve learned some tough lessons the last few years. Hopefully that will pay off this year.”
Class 1A Valmeyer Regional
Top seeds: (1) Okawville (26-3), (4) Marissa (16-10), (6) Valmeyer (14-13)
Could challenge: It’s doubtful any team in this regional is capable of challenging Okawville. Any upset would be one of monumental proportions.
Analysis: If Okawville has any plans of making some noise at the Class 1A state tournament, this is the year. The Rockets have a Division I recruit in senior Noah Frederking and another capable playmaker and scorer in Shane Ganz along with several other scoring options. Marissa, coming off a 67-62 loss to Valmeyer, is led by the school’s all-time scoring leader Kyle Smith (23.6 points per game).
Class 1A Mt. Olive Regional
Top seeds: (2) Metro-East Lutheran, (3) Madison, (5) Bunker Hill (14-13)
Favorite: Metro-East Lutheran
Could challenge: Madison or Bunker Hill
Analysis: While Metro-East Lutheran could be looking ahead to a potential regional final rematch with Madison, Bunker Hill will definitely have something to say about which team advances to the sectional. Metro-East Lutheran defeated Madison 71-56 and knocked off Bunker Hill 68-60, so the ME Lutheran Knights have what it takes but will need solid efforts from J.J. Schwarz (12.6 ppg), Braden Woolsey (12.1 ppg) and Noah Coddington (11.9 ppg).
Compiled by Norm Sanders.