BURLINGTON – Devin Mottet and his Sycamore teammates had been looking forward to their regional semifinal against Rochelle ever since the Hubs beat the Spartans on their home floor almost two weeks ago.
It didn’t help Mottet’s anxiety when the game was pushed back an extra day because of Tuesday’s snow storm.
But when it finally came time for tip-off Wednesday night, Sycamore was ready. The Spartans may have played their best five-minute stretch of the season to start the game, bursting out to a 13-point first-quarter lead and cruising to a 66-46 victory in the Class 3A Burlington Central Regional semifinal.
The Spartans will play Hampshire, which defeated Burlington Central in the first semifinal, Friday at 7:30 p.m. for the regional championship.
“We were anxious to play because they kind of took our hopes from getting that conference championship we wanted so bad,” Mottet said. “We wanted to prove that game was a fluke.”
The Spartans scored the first seven points of the game and the offense ran through their front-court trio of Mottet, Ben Niemann and Scott Nelson.
A putback by Jake Winters on Sycamore’s fourth shot attempt of the possession gave Sycamore a 19-6 lead after the first quarter.
“I thought we did a great job early. That was our game plan, get the ball inside because I thought we could take advantage of it,” Sycamore coach Andrew Stacy said. “That kind of really set the tone and it just kind of went from there.”
Consecutive layups by Nelson forced Rochelle to burn its third timeout within the game’s first nine minutes.
The Hubs’ 3-point shooting, which was a big factor in Rochelle’s win at Sycamore two weeks ago, was nonexistent for most of the game. Sycamore was able to close out on shooters and force difficult outside looks as the Hubs shot just 7 for 33 from beyond the arc.
“We changed up our defensive scheme a little bit tonight and it really worked out,” Stacy said. “Guys did a great job believing in the game plan, executing the game plan.”
Sycamore stretched the lead to 22 by the end of the third quarter as the Spartans shot 8-for-10 from the field coming out of halftime. Rochelle never got closer than 15 in the fourth quarter.
Mottet finished the game with 20 points and 12 rebounds while Nelson added 14 points and Niemann had 11.
Sycamore won’t have to wait long to play again as the Spartans go for their first regional championship since 2004 on Friday.
“It’s huge for our program. Last year we were 9-20, had to play the play-in game and this year we got the two seed and we’re playing in the championship,” Mottet said. “I really think we turned this program around.”