BYRON, Ill. — Rock Island Alleman coach Patrick Rangel had seen and feared lapses all year by his Pioneers.
Wednesday in the Bryon Class 2A sectional semifinal, the Pioneers suffered through a 9-0 lapse that started late in the third quarter and lasted until the 6-minute mark of the fourth.
It was too much to overcome.
Alleman played valiantly, cutting a once 15-point deficit down to three with more than two minutes left but never could get over the hump, falling to Rockford Christian 43-39.
The loss ends the Pioneers’ season at 14-14 with Rockford Christian (20-8) moving on to face Kewanee for the sectional title Friday.
“I knew our guys had it in them,” said Rangel of the Pioneers’ comeback. “It was just a question of when and how much we could come back, down by 15.”
Rangel pointed to the strange first half, in which the Royal Lions outscored the Pioneers 11-10 despite only making 4-of-18 field goals. Alleman only made 3-of-18 from the field in the first half where almost all stats were even.
“We were a little out of sync in the first half," Rangel said. "Things just wouldn’t go down.
“In the third quarter,” Rangel added, “we were getting point-blank looks. We missed maybe four layups in the third quarter. I wasn’t discouraged, but as things kept getting deeper and deeper with the lead, I knew we could come back. I was just waiting for it. We just ran out of time a little bit.”
Rockford Christian’s 6-foot-5 senior center Matt Glogowski started 1-for-7 himself in the first half, but made 4-of-5 in the third quarter, helping the Lions overcome a brief 16-13 Alleman lead.
“We just couldn’t hit anything; they couldn’t hit anything,” Glogowski said of the first half. “We just knew we had a bad first half and had to come out playing harder than we did in the first.”
With help from teammate Joshua Dowling, who scored the last five points of the quarter, the Royal Lions took command with a 30-22 lead, then scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter to expand it to 15. Then Alleman caught fire behind Jacob Sheldon, Nathan Graves and Andrew Barrett, the latter whose 3 cut it to 39-36 with 3:28 left.
But the Pioneers would get no closer as Rockford Christian beat the Pioneer press and found Dowling all alone underneath for a 41-36 lead with 2:32 to play.
“We weren’t surprised they came back; we knew they were a good team,” said Glogowski. “At the end it came down to just grit.”
Glogowski led the Royal Lions with 14 points, Dowling added 12 and Malik Marshall nine. The Pioneers were led by Nathan Graves’ 11 points and 12 rebounds. Fellow seniors Sheldon and Ryan Hodge added 10 and eight points, respectively.
“We were down 15,” Graves said. “I am really proud of the team, everyone on the bench. The team just stuck together and we couldn’t pull this one out.”
The Pioneers made just 15-of-47 from the field for the game and 4-of-14 from the 3-point line despite owning a 32-27 edge on the boards.
“A lot of shots just didn’t go down,” Rangel said. “The rims were tight today.”
There was much to savor this season for the Pioneers. They snapped a 37-game Western Big Six conference losing streak, won their first regional title in six years and also won a holiday tournament title at Sterling Newman.
“There were highs and lows throughout the season,” Graves said. “The first regional title in six years, that’s great for all of us and the whole program.”
“I am (proud of them),” Rangel said, noting earlier in the year he would not have counted on a comeback, but he knew it would happen Tuesday. “That’s because of their maturity, their season and their grit.
“We’ve been trying to develop a culture and attitude at Alleman the last six years,” he added. “These kids just really took it upon their shoulders to say, ‘Hey we’re tired of being second fiddle.’ I know our fans and their fellow students really appreciated what they did this year.”