Winnebago 67, SJ-O 54: 'Very proud of our kids'
PEORIA — One team will always come to Peoria and lose two games.
It’s a given with the four-class system.
Teams, however, never want to become the only team in their respective class to end the season on a two-game losing skid.
The St. Joseph-Ogden boys’ basketball team found itself in the unfavorable position after Saturday night’s 67-54 loss to Winnebago in the Class 2A third-place game at Carver Arena.
The weekend trip for the Spartans didn’t have the desired results they wanted. Despite the setbacks, SJ-O was able to hoist its first-ever state trophy — albeit fourth place — during halftime of the Class 2A state championship game.
“Just to be able to play on the last night of the season is a great, great accomplishment for our kids,” SJ-O coach Brian Brooks said. “We’re very proud of our kids — not just for this weekend, but the entire season. It doesn’t leave a bitter taste. Obviously, all four teams came here hoping to go 2-0. We didn’t play as well as we’d like at times, and when you don’t have 32 minutes of really good possessions and you’re down to four teams, you’re probably not going to get the outcome you want.”
SJ-O (29-5) led on three separate occasions Saturday, but after Winnebago (33-1) took a 7-6 lead with 4:05 left in the first quarter, the Spartans never enjoyed a lead again.
When Brooks pulled stalwarts like Chase Patton, Brent Schluter, Nate Michael, Louis Acklin, Corbin Hesterberg, Aaron Woller and Dalton Walsh in the final minutes, the unsettling feeling of a record-setting season had ended in a fashion none of the Spartans wanted.
No tears or emotional hugs ensued on the bench. Just solemn, business-like looks showed on their faces. Even with the two losses SJ-O will carry into next season, the program can fall back on the 29 wins, which set a single-season record, and the first-ever state trophy the program earned.
“To set a big goal of (reaching) Peoria at the beginning of the season and accomplish that is a great feeling,” Patton said. “We set a lot of high standards in school history, so now teams after us are going to strive for the same goals we accomplished.”
SJ-O used 13 players by halftime, and all 15 that dressed played before the fourth quarter started.
Reserves like Jake Stewart, Connor Janes, Tyler Harms, Austin Baker, Nick Barnes and Rylan Housenga — players who have gone up against SJ-O’s starters all season in practice — saw action during significant parts of the game when the outcome wasn’t decided.
“It took 15 guys for us to get here,” Brooks said. “We were in a situation where I felt that all 15 guys deserved and earned the opportunity to step foot on the floor in front of our fans (and) their family. We knew they wouldn’t hurt us. They’ve practiced against one of the top teams in the state all year, so we wanted to reward them for everything they’ve given us.”
Schluter ended his junior season with a game-high 22 points, impressing veteran Winnebago coach Joe Murphy.
“He’s got that nice little baby hook in the lane, and he was hitting it all night long,” Murphy said. “We basically couldn’t stop him once he got the ball. It seemed like he hit every one of them. There’s no doubt he kept them in the ballgame.”
Acklin finished his prep career with 11 points and seven rebounds while Michael (10 points) and Patton (seven points) chipped in.
“I’m going to miss the relationships, the inside jokes and the ties we had on and off the court,” Michael said. “I’ve never been around a group of guys that want to win so much and want to have fun doing it. That’s the best type of group to be around.”