WESTVILLE — St. Joseph-Ogden played Salt Fork in its first boys' basketball game of the season. Louis Acklin made certain Wednesday night that the Spartans didn't play the Storm in their season finale.
The SJ-O junior posted a double-double as the Spartans topped Salt Fork 59-42 in a Class 2A regional semifinal game between 20-win opponents at Westville High School.
"For the past week, I've been sick, but tonight I was feeling better and was just ready to play," said Acklin, who led all players with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
In a matchup of two teams hitting their peak, the Spartans hit 5 of 7 first-quarter shots while rolling to their ninth win in 10 games.
"We scouted Salt Fork a couple of weeks ago and came away extremely impressed," SJ-O coach Brian Brooks said.
The Storm (20-10) had won four of its previous five games before Wednesday.
The Spartans (22-7) didn't limit their torrid shooting to the opening eight minutes. Overall, Brooks' team was 24 of 39 (61.5 percent).
"We got good shots," said Brooks, who has made a point of trying to not rely on three-pointers. "That has been a big emphasis. We relied on it too much early (in the season). We've countered with more dribble-drive penetration."
Incredibly, Acklin and Corbin Hesterberg combined for all but one of SJ-O's rebounds. Hesterberg had nine boards. The other was grabbed by Dalton Walsh in the fourth quarter. Walsh came off the bench to hit every shot he attempted, 2 of 2 from the field and 4 of 4 from the free throw line. He had eight points, as did Brent Schluter. Chase Patton was SJ-O's second double-figure scorer, with 11 points.
Acklin said the team's development is a continuation of what takes place before the games.
"It starts in practice," he said. "We're having good ones every night. Then we come out and execute the game plan."
Acklin scored the game's first two points, and the Spartans never trailed, though the Storm created a 2-2 tie on a basket by Ross Learnard, who scored a team-high 16 points.
That deadlock was broken 23 seconds later on a Blake Hoveln basket, and SJ-O was on its way to Friday's regional championship game.
When Acklin is healthy, Brooks has come to expect production like he saw against the Storm.
"Louis has been our most consistent guy all year," he said.
In the title game, the Spartans will play state-ranked Bismarck-Henning, a team Brooks said "is having a phenomenal season. They have a special group of kids who are hungry."
The key for SJ-O, Acklin said, might be easier to describe than to accomplish.
"We'll have to play the best we have all year," he said. "They are extremely talented."
Salt Fork received nine points from Alec Dutton and eight from David Sacre, the lone senior in a program that reached the 20-win mark for the eighth consecutive season. Max Stutsman had seven points and seven rebounds for the Storm, which was within 12 points, 52-40, in the final 90 seconds.
Bismarck-Henning 64, Watseka 45. The top-seeded Blue Devils — ranked seventh in the state in Class 2A — held Watseka to four first-half baskets and never trailed en route to a 19-point semifinal triumph.
Krystian Ingram scored 10 first-period points for B-H (27-2), and Tanner Ribbe added 10 in the second quarter.
"We have that spurtability, where we can score points in a hurry," B-H coach Deon Mennenga said. "I have six guys who can all score."
Three wound up in double figures, led by Ribbe with 18 points. Ingram had 16 and Austin Toler added 14. Ribbe and Stephen Krout were the game's top rebounders with eight apiece.
Watseka (11-18) held a 32-31 second-half scoring edge, which didn't please Mennenga, who didn't clear the bench until the final minute.
"I don't think the focus was right there," he said. "I was disappointed that defensively we had too many lapses in the second half."
B-H wants more than to make an appearance in the title game, which it will do at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
"We have stuff we've got to prove," Mennenga said. "There are people that think we might be a soft No. 7 (ranked) team. I'm not satisfied. The potential is so much greater."
Gabe Duby led fourth-seeded Watseka with 11 points. Ryker Kochel had a team-high five rebounds.