TOLONO — They were supposed to be tired.
Not only did St. Joseph-Ogden play a physical sectional semifinal Thursday night but the Spartans also needed an extra four minutes to dispatch Kankakee Bishop McNamara in overtime after weather postponed both semifinal games.
SJ-O coach Brian Brooks knew his team wouldn’t use that as an excuse heading into Friday’s sectional championship against Monticello.
“You can’t control those things,” Brooks said. “The way we practice prepares us for back-to-back nights. We just talked about the fact that we have to fight through it.”
Nate Michael led a 16-2 Spartans getaway in the first quarter and they looked like the fresher team all night and rolled to a 65-38 win against the Sages in front of a capacity crowd at the Rocket Center to bring a sectional title back to SJ-O for the first time since the 2006-07 school year.
Michael hit two three-pointers in the first quarter and scored nine of the Spartans’ 20 first-quarter points to spark SJ-O (28-3) to a 14-point lead after the opening period.
“I thought we used the momentum from last night to carry us into tonight,” Brooks said.
Michael finished with 17 points, while senior Chase Patton poured in a game-high 18 in the victory. Brent Schluter had nine points — all in the first half — for the Spartans.
“My brother (Nick) was actually part of the first (sectional title), and to be a part of the second one means a lot to me,” Michael said. “For this team, from where we started at the beginning of the year and not playing well, to where we are now, one win away from state, that means a lot to us.”
Michael, now a 6-foot junior, played in spots on the varsity team as a freshman. He said Spartan Nation was expecting big things from the team even a few years ago.
“Ever since eighth grade we had people in the community who had this envisioned,” Michael said. “To pull it out like we did and to live up to expectations is great. Now we have our own goals to take care of.”
The Spartans can credit their defense for burying Monticello (23-6) early.
SJ-O forced turnovers on the Sages’ first four offensive possessions and only allowed five shot attempts in the first quarter.
“We stress hard defense every game. Defense wins ballgames, so we came out and fought hard on the defensive end,” Patton said.
Monticello’s offense never got on track, and the Sages’ height advantage in the post was ineffective against the SJ-O help defense. The Spartans’ lead grew to as many as 19 points by halftime, and the final margin (27 points) was their largest lead of the game.
“They don’t like our ball pressure. We stayed up the line, got in the passing lanes and good things happened,” Patton said.
Senior Ryan Donohue led Monticello with 11 points.
“They pressure so much, we needed to look to get to the basket,” Monticello coach Kevin Roy said. “We were just exerting so much energy on the defensive end and struggled offensively.”