Chart toppers: Boys' hoops teams that could be a factor in postseason, courtesy Fred Kroner
The Rockets are the No. 3 seeds at Sullivan’s six-school Class 2A site, but they are one of the hottest teams with wins in eight of their last 11 games. “This is kind of what we looked like in the summer, fairly consistent and playing pretty good defense,” coach Bill Ipsen said. The slow start was attributed to a variety of factors, including a football playoff run to the Class 3A title game, then injuries to starters Zack Thorson and Matt Restad. “We only had our full lineup in two of our first seven games,” Ipsen said. “We got our basketball legs back, got some confidence and we’re playing pretty well. We’ll see where that takes us.” Besides Restad and Thorson, other usual starters are Justin Deters, Austin Dillavou and Mitch Negangard, with Derek Hooker and Josh Larson as key reserves. Sullivan’s regional winner advances to a sectional at Unity.
Talk about teams on a hot streak. The Raiders, who are in the Chrisman 1A Regional, have wins in 14 of their last 15 games. “We seem to be improving every night,” coach Charlie Carver said. That’s a significant statement in light of losing two of the top eight players to injuries that could end their seasons. Senior Bobby Lance, an early-season starter, is out with a knee injury. Sixth-man John Haynes has a broken hand and will undergo surgery Thursday. “The amazing thing is different kids seem to pick us up every night,” Carver said. “We’ve had a core group of eight guys, which now is down to six. We saw hints in the summer, but we didn’t know how good it would be.” Cole Bogle, the only healthy senior, is joined in the starting lineup by D.J. Castillo, Andrew Donithan, Cyrus Furgeson and Kaleb Hood, with Eli Furgeson now the top reserve.
The Knights got on a late-season roll a year ago, and it carried the team to the super-sectional. Every starter was an underclassman and the annexation with Lovington created a deeper team this winter, but coach Dale Schuring cautions this is a new year. “People think it will be easy because of what we did last year, but we’re not guaranteed anything,” he said. “We have to prove ourselves once again. The regional (1A at Arcola) is more wide open than what most would think.” Senior starters Nick Martina, Andrew Maxwell and Evan Seegmiller are joined by junior Curtis Plank and sophomore Tyler Schuring. Martina, from Lovington, has given the team strength inside and enabled Maxwell to return to his more natural perimeter position. Logan West, from Lovington, is another key newcomer.
Blue Ridge (16-9)
The Knights are the No. 3 seeds for the Colfax 1A Regional, but they have a win against top-seeded Ridgeview when the Mustangs were missing a starter. Blue Ridge has four starters back from last season, and coach Kyle Watson said, “We’ve talked about taking steps up the ladder and getting better and better. We’re getting there, but we haven’t played our best basketball yet.” With the team’s nucleus a year older, it shows in the team’s production. “We’re not giving up as many points, and our turnovers are down, but we still have our share of turnovers.” Will Duggins, Travys Nichols, Clint O’Neal, Mark Plunk and Michael Plunk are the usual starters, with Duggins generally drawing the opposition’s best shooter. Jon Jones, C.J. Bishop, Cody Davis and Dillon Trent provide depth off the bench.
The Panthers are the No. 4 seeds at Clifton’s 2A site in what could be one of the area’s most competitive fields. PBL owns a 10-point win against top-seeded Clifton Central. The top four seeds are from the Sangamon Valley Conference. “Everybody has a fairly good shot, if they get playing the right way in a two- or three-game stretch,” PBL coach Scot Vogel said. “It’s definitely a regional that will be interesting.” PBL’s top six scorers all have reached double figures this season, and three of them have eclipsed the 20-point mark. Jay Eshleman, Axl Denault, Tyler Rubarts, Drew Schrodt and Weston Weber are the starters, with non-starter Jeremy Walder providing a lift when called upon.