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Trojans roll over L-P for 3A regional crown

Posted: Tuesday, Mar 5th, 2013

James Carroll makes a move to the basket against the defense of L-P's Jon Von Behren.

ROCK FALLS – Last year when the Illinois High School Association decided to once again tinker with the school classification system in Illinois, its conclusion was to divide the sports into equal groups among all IHSA members. In boys' basketball, that meant a bump up to Class 3A for Mendota.

Consequently, the Trojans' task come post-season tournament time would seemingly become more difficult, because by being the fifth smallest school in 3A, they were almost assured of playing schools with larger enrollments. But instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the Mendota coaching staff and players decided they would just have to play the hand they were dealt.

Now that the post-season is here, the Trojans are coming up aces. Assigned to the six-team Rock Falls Regional, as expected, Mendota was the smallest school in the field. And by being seeded fourth, not many gave the Trojans a chance.

But Mendota swept through the tournament like a whirlwind, destroying three teams in its path, the final victim being its neighbor to the south, LaSalle-Peru, which was no match for the Trojans in a 67-56 MHS victory in the championship game on March 1.

The regional title win was Mendota's first since 1999 when it defeated Amboy, and vaulted it into the Peoria Class 3A Sectional where it met Bartonville (Limestone) on Tuesday night, weather permitting. A Trojan win in that game would mean a date with either Galesburg or Peoria High School in the sectional championship at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 8 at the Renaissance Coliseum on the campus of Bradley University.

Much like L-P did to Ottawa two days before, this game was essentially decided within the first few minutes of the opening tip. The Trojans took control from the get-go, feeding off of a Trae Blumhorst three-pointer from the top of the key just seconds into the contest. Mendota led from wire-to-wire, and even when the Cavaliers made several attempts at a comeback in the second half, the Trojans had an answer every time.

“Before we started the tournament I told the boys we needed three games played hard, smart and with our Trojan style,” said an elated Mendota coach Jan Thompson. “I told them if they'd do that, they'd have a great shot at being champs. They listened, and now we are regional champs.”

Mendota led 16-7 after the first quarter, and then it opened the second frame with a basket by Evan Carroll and a three-ball by Jon Gehm to go up by a 21-7 count. The Trojans settled for a 36-24 halftime advantage.

L-P cut the deficit down to single digits early in the third period (38-29), but a three-point play by Blumhorst also resulted in a technical foul on the Cavalier bench, and Blumhorst added one more free toss to increase Mendota's margin to 42-29.

Back came L-P with a 6-0 run, but the Trojans quickly got back to a double-digit margin on a trifecta by Mark Prescott to make it a 45-35 count. L-P countered with back-to-back threes by Jon Von Behren and Brady Huebbe to slice Mendota's lead down to four, 45-41, with 54 seconds left in the quarter, but Blumhorst drained a 15-footer with three seconds left to give the Trojans a 47-41 lead with a quarter to play.

Mendota pushed the lead back to 10 when Blumhorst and Austin O'Sadnick tallied consecutive baskets to start the fourth, and then L-P had one final gasp. Von Behren hit another trey and Jens Soderholm made one of two free throws to make it a 51-45 Trojan lead. The Cavaliers could have gotten closer when Devin Stoker went to the line for a one-and-one, but his first offering was a brick, and that was essentially it for L-P.

Blumhorst worked free for an easy basket down low, then the final four minutes became the James Carroll Show. The super soph scored 12 of Mendota's final 14 points, including eight of eight from the free throw line, to seal the victory.

James Carroll finished with a game-high 22 points. He was 12 of 13 from the line. Blumhorst ended with 15 points, while O'Sadnick chipped in with 10. Soderholm's 17 tallies led four Cavaliers in double figures.

Blumhorst's eight rebounds paced the Trojans, while Evan Carroll had three assists and Prescott picked off three steals.

Mendota was good on 44 percent of its field goal attempts and 85 percent of its free throws. L-P shot 38 percent from the floor and 69 percent from the stripe. The Trojans owned a 24-23 rebounding edge, while Mendota committed 11 turnovers, one less than L-P.

“This was a goal set up by our seniors at the beginning of the year,” noted Thompson. “We've lived by that goal all season and we were able to accomplish it. This was a big win for Mendota.”

The Trojans moved on with a 19-12 record, while L-P closed at 19-10.

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