ROCK FALLS – All of the cards were stacked against Mendota. The Trojans had already lost twice to Rock Falls in the regular season and now they had to face the high-flying Rockets on their home floor in a regional tournament game.
But Mendota threw the past out the window and played one of its most complete games of the season at the most opportune time. The Trojans outperformed Rock Falls in every facet of the game to post a 70-57 victory in the semifinals of the Rock Falls Class 3A Regional on Feb. 27.
Rock Falls, which ended the season with a 21-7 record, was the number one seed in the tournament.
Hustle can go a long way toward the success of a team and the Trojans displayed plenty of that against the Rockets. Mendota ran down nearly every loose ball on the floor and off the glass, and were quicker to the basket on offense. The result was a huge 36-12 rebounding disparity for the Trojans and also a 15-point difference at the foul line.
While each team connected for 23 field goals, the Trojans went to the charity stripe 27 times and converted 20, while Rock Falls was just five of nine from the line. Fifteen of Mendota’s 20 successful free tosses came in the crucial fourth quarter.
“Our rebounding and free throws were the difference in the game,” said MHS coach Jan Thompson. “It was a nice team performance.”
Many of Mendota’s trips to the foul line came after second-chance shot attempts that wound up in the hands of the Trojan players and resulted in fouls by Rock Falls.
"Rebounding was the first the thing we touched on in our pregame talk," Rock Falls coach Brad Bickett said. "We had escaped with a win there earlier this year, even though they controlled the boards.
"I wouldn't say that our kids played poorly, or that they didn't play hard. Mendota just played very well, and you can't give up that much in rebounding."
Trailing 34-32 at the break, the Trojans quickly took the lead at the start of the third quarter when James Carroll was successful on an old-fashioned three-point play to make it 35-34. But Rock Falls responded with back-to-back three-point bombs by Jace Anderson and Connor Olson to open up a 40-35 advantage, its biggest lead of the night.
The Rockets maintained the lead over the next three and a half minutes until the Trojans scored 10 straight points over a three-minute span to turn the tide. James Carroll’s 15-footer got the streak started, then he converted four straight free throws to push Mendota in front 47-45, a lead it would never relinquish. Trae Blumhorst followed up Carroll’s personal six-point outburst with a pair of baskets to make it 51-45. A driving bank shot by Rock Falls’ Alex Leaf at the buzzer put an end to Mendota’s 10-0 run.
Four was as close as Rock Falls could get in the final frame. The Trojans had just two field goals in the fourth, but they went to the line 20 times and made 15 to thwart any thoughts of a Rock Falls comeback. Blumhorst connected on eight free throws in the final period, while Austin O’Sadnick, Evan Carroll and Mark Prescott each had two, and James Carroll one.
“I guess the third time’s the charm,” noted Thompson. “We played a complete 32-minute game, both smart and hard.”
James Carroll led the Trojan offense with 22 points, while Blumhorst (18) and O’Sadnick (10) also hit double digits. Jon Gehm nailed three three-pointers, all in the first half, to finish with nine tallies. Steven Armoska (19) was the lone double figure scorer for the Rockets.
Blumhorst and O’Sadnick collected 12 and 10 rebounds, respectively, while Evan Carroll had three steals. The Carroll brothers also had two assists apiece.
The Trojans shot 40 percent from the floor and 74 percent from the free throw line, while Rock Falls made 45 percent of its shots from the field and 56 percent of its free tosses. Each team committed 11 turnovers.