RANTOUL — Brett Frerichs says he never put much stock in the seedings for the Class 3A Rantoul Regional. Not even with his Rantoul Eagles rating the No. 1 seed in the five-team field.
"We knew coming into this regional it was wide open," Frerichs said.
For Exhibit A, we present the Centennial Chargers. Seeded fourth, the Chargers were the only team in the regional that entered the postseason with a losing record. Yet, they also were 2-3 in regular season matchups against the regional field.
Make that 4-3 now that Centennial marched all the way to the regional final after knocking off the Eagles 79-66 Tuesday night in the semifinals.
"We had a rough season," Chargers guard Devin Carter said, "and we're on a little winning streak right now, so we're coming into the next game pretty confident."
Indeed, Centennial (13-16) seems to be hitting its stride at the most opportune time. The Chargers have won five in a row entering Friday night's title game. They will face the winner of Wednesday night's semifinal between second-seeded Champaign Central and third-seeded Mahomet-Seymour.
To advance, Centennial needed to get past a 21-win Eagles team that entered the night 7-1 on its home court.
"We knew it was going to be tough coming into their house, so we knew we were going to have to play our hearts out," Carter said.
For the first 10 1/2 minutes, this bout was a draw as the teams played to seven different ties. Then the Chargers landed the first punch with a 12-2 run sparked by Taylen Alexander's seven-point flurry. By halftime, Centennial was ahead 35-25.
"I thought Centennial came out and they were the aggressor," Frerichs said. "They crashed the boards, shot the ball very well and kind of had us on our heels a little bit."
The Eagles counterpunched early in the third quarter, drawing within 41-35 when Travis Britt (28 points) hit one of his four three-pointers.
But Centennial, which was able to handle Rantoul's ramped-up pressure in the second half, again pulled away to a 15-point lead by late in the third period.
"We did a good job of looking up the court when we got through the initial trap, getting some easy (baskets)," Chargers coach Tim Lavin said. "You make a lot of easy buckets like that, it kind of demoralizes what they're trying to do."
Carter (21 points) led a balanced Centennial attack that saw four players score at least 14 points.