Okawville Rockets celebrate first trip to state tournament in 30 years
The Okawville Rockets are headed back to the state basketball tournament for the first time in 30 years following a 46-40 victory Tuesday over the Unity Mustangs at the Class 1A Jacksonville Super-Sectional.
The Rockets (31-3) finally advanced to Peoria after five straight super-sectional losses. They trailed 30-23 at halftime, then held Unity to 1-for-14 shooting in the second half to guarantee a shot at a state title.
Okawville, which finished second at the 1987 Class A state tourney, will face Newark (28-4) in the state semifinals at 12:45 p.m. Friday in Peoria.
“Coach has been telling us this whole postseason we don’t get a second chance,” said Okawville senior Shane Ganz, who scored eight of his 10 points to key a second-half surge that saw the Rockets outscore the Mustangs 23-10. “The last two times we got knocked out, us juniors and sophomores knew we’d be back (the next) year. This year we couldn’t think like that.
“I think that’s what’s been helping us going forward.”
Rockets senior Noah Frederking led the way with 16 points.
An 11-0 run by Okawville in the third quarter was fueled by defensive intensity and inside scoring by Frederking, who scored eight of his team-high 16 points in the third quarter to send the Rockets into the fourth quarter with a 36-32 lead.
“We knew we had a mismatch down low, and we just kept pounding it inside,” said Frederking, a University of Evansville recruit. “This place is notorious for being the death of 3-point shooting teams, so coach told us we had to get it down low and post up. We got offense around the rim.”
Okawville coach Jon Kraus felt his team was trying a bit too hard earlier in the game. He still noticed a particular confidence in the locker room at halftime.
“They just want to win,” Kraus said. “They just stared, they were focused and ready to go. There wasn’t much I had to say them. They’re seniors, they’re tough kids and I could see that they wanted it really bad.”
Unity star senior Cory Miller scored eight of his team’s first 10 points to get the Mustangs off to a quick start. He also had 15 of their 30 points at halftime, but scored only six in the second half to finish with 21.
The Rockets also made the Mustangs chase them, holding the ball for long stretches of the fourth quarter.
“I told them at halftime we’ve got to get it evened up and take the lead, ease the pressure off of us a little bit,” said Kraus, whose team hit just three of 13 shots in the second quarter and trailed by nine at one point.
Ganz came up big in the fourth quarter. He twice gave Okawville a four-point lead, including two free throws with 41 seconds remaining to make it 44-40.
Okawville’s Josh Madrid also took a long pass for a layup with 58 seconds remaining and clinched the win on a pair of free throws with 10 seconds remaining.
Cole Thompson had 10 points for Unity.
Mt. Carmel 61, Alton Marquette 40
At the Class 2A Carbondale Super-Sectional, Mt. Carmel got 14 points and nine rebounds from Justin Carpenter and advanced to the state tournament.
Alton Marquette (30-4) got 11 points from Reagan Snider.