ELGIN – Hinckley-Big Rock was dominant throughout the 2012-13 season, losing only four times heading into Friday’s Class 1A Westminster Christian Regional final against Mooseheart, and had Little Ten Conference regular-season and tournament titles on their list of accomplishments.
However, that list won’t include a regional title after H-BR’s 55-38 loss to the Red Ramblers. The Royals end the season at 24-5.
It’s the end of an era for H-BR, a team that had five seniors – Bernie Conley, Jared Madden, Zach Michels, Michael Bayler and Mitch Ruh – in its starting lineup.
“That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was say goodbye to those guys,” Royals senior point guard Conley said. “They’re my family. They’ve been my family for the past 10 years.”
After the loss, H-BR coach Bill Sambrookes reflected on coaching H-BR’s senior class. Sambrookes remembered having current seniors coming to camps when they were in fifth grade.
“They all stayed together, and accepted their roles. Nobody moved in, nobody moved out. It was those 10. Homegrown talent, they played the best that they could,” Sambrookes said. “To get a school like us, to get talent like that at one time, it doesn’t come around all the time. The last three years have been absolutely phenomenal.”
With a big crowd expected, the game was moved to Judson University to accommodate the large number of fans from both schools. Both sides were loud, but it was the Mooseheart section cheering after the buzzer. The public address announcer even had to tell fans three separate times not to storm the court following the win.
Often throughout the game, specifically the first half, H-BR had good looks but the shots just didn’t fall. The Red Ramblers (24-5), who played a man-to-man defense in a loss to the Royals in December, went with a zone. It was tough for H-BR to get past Mooseheart’s length. The Red Ramblers feature a trio of Sudanese players 6-foot-7 or taller – Mangisto Deng, Makur Puou and Akim Nyang.
Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said his team ran the 1-3-1 zone better than it has all season.
“Not to take anything away from them, we’re so long, it’s just hard to shoot. I know people say, ‘Hey, if you can hit a 3 against us, you’re gong to be able to beat Mooseheart,’ “ he said. “I’ll tell you what, we defend the 3 pretty well. There’s not many uncontested 3s that kids get off against us.”
H-BR got off to a slow start, scoring only four points in the fist quarter and nine in the second. The Royals made a run in the third, getting to within 11. But the Red Ramblers responded.
“I thought we came out in the second half with a lot of good energy and fought all the way to the end,” Sambrookes said. “Kids showed their heart and their character in that second half, and they would not go away.”
Michels led H-BR with 12 points. Conley and Bayler each had seven.