ROCHELLE – Sycamore boys basketball players whooped and shouted as they headed into the locker room after a 60-42 win over Rochelle.
Early in the season, it’s clear that the Spartans (3-2, 1-0 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) are a more confident bunch than the one that struggled to find positives early in the 2011-12 season.
“They’re a confident group,” coach Andrew Stacy said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are leaders, they compete, they play hard … I’m excited about this group.”
From the opening whistle, the Spartans dominated the Hubs, who were missing their leading scorer, Grant Prusator, to injury.
For the first 5:26, Sycamore held Rochelle (1-4, 0-1 NI Big 12 East) scoreless, and 11 first quarter points from Devin Mottet gave the Spartans an early 13-3.
The solid defense didn’t stop there. Matt Rosenwinkel kept the Hubs close with 14 first-half points, but the Rochelle senior was the only Hub to score multiple field goals until midway through the third quarter. After Scott Nelson scored early in the second half to make the score 30-19, the Sycamore lead never dipped into single digits
Mottet paced the Spartans with 14 points, and Nelson chipped in 12.
“The effort was outstanding,” Stacy said. “I knew they were a little down without Prusator, but we didn’t take them lightly.”
Bailey Gilbert was frustrated throughout the first three quarters of the Sycamore girls’ 52-49 loss to Rochelle (7-0, 1-0 NI Big 12 East).
The sophomore, who the Spartans (2-3, 0-1 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) lean on for a bulk of their offense, picked up two fouls early in the first quarter and was forced to sit out the rest of the first half, and she hadn’t scored when she picked up two more fouls in the third quarter.
“I was definitely upset with myself,” Gilbert said. “I knew I could do better. I knew when I got back in there, I’d just try my hardest again.”
But down 48-36 late in the fourth quarter, Gilbert made two free throws. Then she two more. Then she sank two three-pointers, and all of a sudden, the Spartans were within three with 12.7 seconds left.
After the teams exchanged free throws, the Spartans had the ball with seven seconds remaining. Gilbert took the inbounds pass, ran up to the three-point line and took an off-balance shot, which hit the front rim, then the back and fell to the ground.
Head coach Brett Goff was frustrated with his team’s inability to box out or make free throws, but the comeback from a young team was encouraging.
“We lost by three points and we do those things very poorly that normally we’re very good at, and it’s frustrating,” Goff said. “But the girls showed a lot of heart in the fourth quarter. Hopefully that’ll give us a little bit of momentum going into the next game.”
After losing their conference opener, the Spartans have plenty of room for growth. Sycamore, which has no seniors on its roster, was paced by sophomore Paige Wogen, who knocked down three three-pointers on her way to 13 points.
After the close loss, Gilbert thinks her team is progressing.
“I definitely feel like we’re going a step in the right direction, and I sure hope it’ll make us better in the long run,” she said. “Boxing out is definitely a big key for us, and once we do well in the box out, everything else will follow through after that.”