Valmeyer did about all it could do against the state’s seventh-ranked 1A boys basketball team.
But the Pirates’ grab-slap-and-bump style couldn’t contain Okawville’s shooters.
The Rockets closed strong to defeated Valmeyer, 60-33, and capture the New Athens 1A Regional Championship on Friday. They’ll advance to their own home sectional tournament, which begins Tuesday.
“The first time in school history we’ll be at home for a sectional,” said Okawville coach Jon Kraus, whose team improved to 22-9. “It’s exciting for our guys and the fans. But we’ve still got to play basketball games. Nobody is going to hand us that trophy because we’re on our home floor.”
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Valmeyer (15-14) kept itself with 12 points of Okawville early in the fourth quarter, but the Rockets closed with an 18-2 run with the benefit of only three field goals. They landed 13 of 19 free throws in the final six minutes to open the decisive lead.
In all, Okawville was sent to the free throw line 41 times by a physical Valmeyer defense.
“We expected some kind of junk defense and we’ve been prepping for it quite a long time, actually,” Kraus said. “Once we got them out of it, we felt like we could score some points on them.”
They key for Valmeyer was stopping super sophomore Noah Frederking, who entered the game tops in the metro-east scoring at 22.1 points per game. He scored on a single second-quarter field goal, but hit on 11 free throws, including nine in the second half.
“I thought we did a good job on him in the first half,” said Valmeyer senior Zach Williams. “We kept fouling him, but he kept hitting his free throws.”
After giving up a pair of baskets to start the game, Okawville rattled off 20 points in a row, 13 of which were scored by sophomore Shane Ganz.
Ganz scored a game-high 25, including three first-quarter 3-pointers that Kraus said were the key to the game.
“No question he was the key otherwise we’re still playing against that defense for most of the game,” he said. “We feel like we have enough guys who can make shots and tonight was Shane’s night. This time of year, it takes everybody to play and do their part. Noah isn’t going to win every game for us. He struggled tonight at times, but he’s still such a focal point, others kids have to step up and Shane did.”
Ganz scored six from the free throw line and got two of the Rockets’ three field goals in the fourth quarter.
“In warm-ups I was feeling it and then I got some open shots,” Ganz said. “Coach told us before the game to run them in transition because they are not very fast. That’s what we did.”
Valmeyer didn’t roll over, even after falling behind by 20 points midway through the second quarter. Vaugh Larson stepped off the bench to hit a three-point basket that seemed to wake up the Vikings’ offensively.
Griffin Seidler also substituted into the game to contribute six points in a 10-0 run that put Valmeyer within nine, 29-20, just before the end of the half.
The Vikings held the Rockets to a single field goal in the third quarter to maintain a margin they thought they could close.
“We got them to the fourth quarter,” said Williams, who scored seven for Valmeyer. “But then we got in foul trouble and they hit their free throws to put it away. They got us.”
Okawville will face Morrisonville, winners of the Waverly Regional, in the sectional semifinal Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Seven players had points for Okawville, including Ganz’s 25. Frederking scored 13, Nick Stubhart had nine, Brad Furhop had six, Alec Wisneski had five, and Mason Drury and Brendan Killion each scored two.
Larson led Valmeyer with 8 to go with Williams’ seven. Seidler added six, Hunter Brewer had five, Ryan Unterseh had five, and Eric Smith scored two.