Even though they left Peoria without a Class 2A state championship or the third-place trophy, the Mater Dei Knights found more than enough positives in their fourth-place finish.
“We had an absolutely phenomenal weekend and the experience of a lifetime,” Mater Dei coach Ron Schadegg said Saturday following his team’s 52-47 loss to Rockridge in the third-place game. “We didn’t want to be the team that lost two, but we did. Like many people told us the entire week before we got here, enjoy the experience.
“We’re very grateful and thankful to be in this position today and we enjoyed our experience.”
Mater Dei senior Zach Haake came to Peoria hoping for more, but was especially pleased to make it to state. The Knights (24-12) took home the fourth-place trophy after finishing second in 1996 and fourth in 1974. Rockridge finished 31-2.
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“Not too many people get this opportunity at all and I enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “I think this past two or three weeks from regionals on, we earned it. I think Coach lit a fire under us, I really do. We believed.”
What the Knights (24-12) did not enjoy were the high-scoring exploits of Rockridge senior all-stater and Division II Michigan Tech recruit Bryan Heath. Heath tossed in 30 of his team’s 52 points and seemed to drop in a 3-pointer each time the momentum was about to swing back toward the Knights.
“He’s a tremendous player, there’s no doubt,” Schadegg said. “That’s why he’s an all-stater. We did everything possible to try to stop him, we had two great defenders (Ben Lampe and Haake) on him. They were in his face, they made him put it on the floor.
“They did things to try to make him uncomfortable, but with great players, they find their niche, they find a way to get it done. He willed his team to win tonight.”
The Knights struggled at the free-throw line as they had in some previous playoff games, hitting just 16-of-30 at the foul line. Mater Dei was 21-for-35 on free throws in a 66-61 sectional win over Greenville, including 17-for-29 in the fourth quarter.
Mater Dei’s top scorer was senior Ben Lampe, who had 20 points and sank 10 of his 14 free-throw attempts. Senior center Nolan Gerling added 17 points and eight rebounds.
The Knights got only seven points combined from their other three starters.
Mater Dei fell behind 7-1 almost immediately, but the Knights climbed back into it on bull-like moves to the basket by Lampe.
Lampe had 14 of his team’s 26 points in the first half, scoring twice early in the second quarter to put the Knights up 20-14.
“Ben’s a tough guy, he really is,” Haake said. “He’s kind of a bulldozer guy. He puts his head down and goes, and he finishes.”
A pair of 3-pointers by Heath helped Rockridge regain the lead. But a controversial sequence at the end of the first half drew plenty of criticism from the Mater Dei coaches and players, with booing coming from most of areas of the arena outside of the Rockridge section.
Mater Dei’s Sam Toennies was called for a foul near the end of the half and several observers, including nearby cameramen, thought it was Rockridge’s No. 23, Isaiah Kistler, shooting. However, the officials put Heath at the foul line and he hit one free throw before the officials met in group discussion again.
With boos raining down from the crowd, Heath hit two more free throws to give Rockridge a 29-26 lead.
Or so everyone thought.
When the teams returned to the court to start the third quarter, an announcement was made concerning a “correctable error” and Kistler was sent out to the free-throw line by himself to shoot the free throws. Kistler hit all three and it seemed the officials had finally gotten it right.
Except this time the score was corrected and Rockridge was leading 30-26.
“I’ve never experienced that in my life,” Schadegg said. “We’re all human, people make mistakes. The positive note of that is they tried to correct it. When we went in at halftime it was 29-26, then he makes them and it’s 30-26.
“We cant fault anything or anybody. We gave it our best effort.”
The teams battled down the stretch and two free throws by Gerling gave Mater Dei a 43-41 lead with 2:23 remaining. A 3-pointer by Rockridge’s Gentry Whiteman and another shot by Heath put the Rockets back on top for good.
Mater Dei got within one again on a Gerling free throw with 56 seconds remaining, but an alley-oop pass from Heath to Luke Johnson sealed the win. Trailing by three, Mater Dei had one more chance and a 3-point try by Zack Deiters with 16 seconds remaining rimmed out.
“We had a chance there at the end,” Schadegg said. “Zack Deiters had a wide-open three, had a look, and it just didn’t bounce in tonight. I’ll sleep wll tonight, I know that because these kids did everything they could to win this basketball game.”