An old March Madness adage says the third-place game is the hardest game to play in all of sports.
That adage is also a tired cliche, says Rockridge coach Toby Whiteman. The Rockets have been through too much this season to be derailed by a 50-39 semifinal loss to Decatur St. Teresa, just their second of the season.
A resolute Whiteman “guarantees” his team will approach its third place game with Mater Dei Saturday with the same intensity it brought Friday with the 2A state title still on the table.
“As far as I’m concerned the season isn’t over — I don’t want the season to end with a loss,” Whiteman said. “These guys are competitors. Nobody on the Rockridge team is going to look at a shot for third place in the state and say ‘well, it’s not the championship game so we’re going to lay down.”
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Meter Dei Coach Ron Schadegg hopes the Knights can channel some of Whiteman’s grit following their semifinal loss to Chicago Uplift.
“Obviously we’re not going to be a state champion. We can certainly get out of here tomorrow as winners,” he said. “It’s difficult to swallow when you know you’re not playing for it. Our kids are a little discouraged and not satisfed right now. We’ll have 24 hours to recover and certainly try to make a difference tomorrow.”
Rockridge, 30-2, found the incentive for its record success on the court in all the adversity it experienced off of it.
The Rockets take the court before each game wearing warm-up jerseys that read “Do It For Drake,” a tribute to Rockridge freshman athlete Drake DeKeyrel, who died in an accident on Christmas Eve. Whiteman also missed games — including the regional championship game — due to health problems.
“We have had a lot of adversity on the court and in our lives,” said Rockridge senior Brian Heath. “We lost a good friend and to fight that is the hardest thing to go through as a teenager. We shouldn’t have to go through that. It’s brought us together. I think it gave us some perspective when we were down on the floor or up against something. It helped us bounce back in tough situations.”
The school owns 12 regional championships in its history, but has never advanced beyond the sectional round.
Rockridge was ranked No. 1 in 2A at the end of the 2014 regular season, but lost in the sectional championship game to the eventual state champion, Bloomington’s Central Catholic. Heath says the Rockets also have been propelled by the bitterness of that loss.
“Last year’s team was really good, but we might have gone into the sectionals last year thinking we’d breeze through,” he said. “Getting here is what we wanted to do — compete for a championship. That’s not going to happen, so now we’ll look forward to playing for third place.”
Heath, a 6-foot-4 senior guard, leads the Rockets with 24.2 points and six rebounds per game. He became his school’s all-time leading scorer this season. He had a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds in the semifinal loss.
Sophomore Gentry Whiteman, with 9.6 points per game, and T.J. Martens, who averages. 8.9 points, also provide offense for the Rockets.
Rockridge is the champion of the Riverdale Regional, Farmington Sectional and DeKalb Super-Sectional at Northern Illinois University. It fell behind early to St. Teresa in the state semifinal due to 13 mostly unforced turnovers and 19 percent shooting from the field in the first half.
IBCA ALL-STATE TEAM
Okawville sophomore guard Noah Frederking was the lone metro-east player to make first-team all-state on the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Class 1A-2A All-State Team announced Friday at the state tournament.
Central junior guard Logan Kohrmann and Nashville junior forward Royce Newman each made second-team all-state and Mater Dei senior center Nolan Gerling was on the third team.
Selected fourth-team all-state were Wood River senior guard Mike Stimac and Nashville senior guard Dylan Mueller. On the special mention all-state team were Mater Dei senior Ben Lampe, Gibault junior Jacob Rueter and New Athens senior Ryan Reuss.
On the honorable mention all-state team were Central junior Chase Schneider, Nashville senior Daniel Thorson, Wesclin junior Jarad Steenbergen, Roxana senior Trace Gentry and Mater Dei senior Zach Haake.
Among the finalists in the Class 1A State Three-Point Showdown were Valmeyer’s Ryan Unterseh and Zach Williams. Both landed six of 10 attempts in the preliminaries, but failed to advance to the finals.
Jonathan Barth, a junior from Flanagan drained all 10 in the final round and will advance to the King of the Hill competition next weekend during the 3A-4A state tournament weekend.
Central’s Chase Schneider advanced to the 2A state preliminaries, but did not advance. Farmington sophomore Eric Higgs will represent Class 2A at the Kind of the Hill competition.