NORMAL — There are decisions coaches have to make. Sometimes the need to make one is thrust upon them.
Fisher boys' basketball coach Ron Ragle found himself in a quandary early in Tuesday's Class 1A super-sectional game against Illini Central at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena.
Senior Dylan Chapman had scored all of the Bunnies' points as they jumped into a 7-6 lead three minutes into the game. When Chapman was whistled for his second foul with more than a minute left in the opening quarter, the call was one Ragle did not want to make.
"I didn't know what to do," he said.
He took the safe route; safe as in protecting Chapman. He pulled him and waited until the third quarter to re-insert him.
Following a 55-40 loss to the Cougars, Ragle wasn't second-guessing his choice.
"Our guys off the bench played pretty well," he said.
The Bunnies trailed 20-16 at intermission due to their shooting woes against an Illini Central team that is 17-12 overall, but with eight consecutive wins.
"They challenge everything," Ragle said. "Defensively, they take you out of a lot of stuff you want to do."
The Bunnies were 3 of 20 from the field 17 minutes into the game.
Twice in the third quarter, Fisher (17-15) pulled within two points as it sought to become the first sports team in school history to secure a state trophy.
The final time, 24-22, was on a layup by Chapman — who led the Bunnies with 12 points — at the 5:21 mark.
Illini Central coach John Giesler expected a tough challenge from a team that beat his last summer during a team camp at the University of Illinois.
"They play with a lot of heart and deserve to be here," Giesler said. "They silenced anyone who thought they didn't (belong)."
Taw Fredrickson, who scored nine points and shared the team lead in rebounding (seven) with Hans Carmien, was proud of what the Bunnies accomplished.
"We had a great year," Fredrickson said.
The Cougars used a 9-0 third-quarter run to take control. Justin Onken, scoreless for the rest of the game, netted back-to-back three-pointers on successive possessions to spark the surge.
"We got down, picked it back up, then couldn't catch up late," Fredrickson said.
Fisher committed 18 turnovers, 15 coming after the first quarter.
"We didn't take care of the basketball when we needed to," Ragle said. "We felt more pressure than there actually was."
Giesler had concerns about how his Mason City-based team would fare this season.
"I thought we might be average, at best, defensively," he said, "but we're (darn) good. We get out and guard people hard."
Fisher's five seniors are a special group for Ragle.
"I've been with them since seventh grade," he said. "I'll remember the times with my boys. We struggled the middle part of the year. Then it all came together at the end. I love my boys."
Fisher was within eight points (43-35) on a baseline shot by Carmien but could get no closer. The Bunnies had to foul, and Illini Central scored its final 10 points from the free throw line.
Both teams ended with the same number of baskets (15), but the Cougars were 21 of 28 on free throws, including 11 of 15 in the final four minutes. Fisher was 7 of 14 from the line.
"We are on such a tremendous roll," Giesler said. "Our team has a lot of confidence. When they take the court, it's not cockiness, but they feel good about their chances."
Playing their final game for Fisher besides Chapman and Fredrickson were Parker Perrero, who had a team-high four assists, Boyd Estes, who hit one of the Bunnies' three-pointers, and Carson Perrero, who was one of the first reserves off the bench.
"It wasn't our best showing by any means." Ragle said. "We're sad going home but happy to have been here."