Belvidere had to wait a day before starting their regional playoff run last Thursday night. The small stands were full at Marengo Community High School, but the crowd was quiet for most of the game. Perhaps it was the lack of a band, or perhaps the fact the announcers introduced the teams but said nothing else. Marengo seemed subdued, probably because as a fourth seed going against the two seed Belvidere, they had been designated the “away” team in their own gym. In any case, they had little to cheer about as the Bucs dominated almost all aspects of the game.
The first period was a see-saw affair with both teams going after the ball and each other. The Bucs scored first; taking the jump ball and making a second try shot after picking up the rebound. Marengo answered, but then fouled Wade Mootrey. He made one of two shots at the line. Marengo couldn’t get the ball inbounds in time and the Bucs took over. However, a bad pass allowed the Indians to grab possession and travel coast to coast and an early lead. The Bucs switched to a full court defense and dogged the Indians from the back court on. The lead switched back and forth at each possession. However, the fouls were beginning to add up in the Bucs favor. Marengo took a time out with 3:55 left after their fifth team foul. The Bucs missed, but George Waddell grabbed the rebound and scored. Belvidere was up 9 – 8 and never looked back. Belvidere’s defense began to concentrate in the paint, preventing any easy shots for Marengo. Andrew Eck stole the ball away and took it back for a lay-up. Marengo continued to send Belvidere to the free throw line, but the Bucs were unable to take advantage, missing most of their free throws. However, the period ended with the Bucs up 16 – 12.
Belvidere kept their four point lead throughout much of the second period, but the Indians kept pace. Brandon Fowler stole the ball, but missed the shot and Marengo got the rebound. Eck broke up the play at the other end. George Waddell was fouled and went to the line, making both shots and extending the Bucs’ lead to six. Waddell grabbed the offensive board and made the second try shot a moment later to extend the lead to eight with four minutes left. Waddell threatened to score again, but drew off the defenders and allowed Brandon Fowler to make a jump shot. Marengo took a timeout. The Bucs switched defense again, staying primarily in the perimeter and preventing the Indians from getting a clear pass to anyone inside. On offense, the Bucs played patiently, looking for the best opportunities for mid court and taking as much time off the clock as possible. Brett Hall hit a long jump shot for Marengo, George Waddell missed, but Tim Ballenger came up with the rebound and scored to keep the Bucs up 29 – 22 going into halftime.
Marengo came back in the third period, scoring on their first possession. They stole the ball away and scored again, cutting the Bucs lead down to three. Moe Shahbain drove in, but passed off to George Waddell behind the defenders for two. Then Waddell stole the ball away and lobbed it to Shahbain for an easy lay-up before Marengo could react. George Waddell stuffed Eric Bauman. The Bucs missed, but on the next possession, Waddell stuffed him again and this time was able to score. The Indians took a time out to regroup with 5:53 on the clock. Belvidere seemed to be everywhere and had control of the game at this point. The Bucs worked to extend their lead and finished up the third period ahead 45 – 36.
Marengo almost lost the ball right off the bat in the fourth period. They had to call a time out to keep possession. The Bucs kept up the pressure with a full court press. Nothing seemed to be going Marengo’s way. The Indians managed to get inside, but were called for an offensive foul when charging into the Bucs in the paint. In the final minutes, the Indians were forced to commit fouls to regain possession. Andrew Eck hit both free throws with 26 seconds left. Marengo quickly scored a three-point shot, but allowed Belvidere to take more than ten seconds off the clock before someone could foul Eck. He hit one of two to extend the Bucs lead to nine. While Marengo was able to score one last time, it was too little too late. The Bucs took their first playoff game 57 – 48.
Friday night, the Bucs picked up where they had left off against the Crusaders. Brandon Fowler kicked things off with a three-point shot. George Waddell found two points at the top of the paint. Wade Mootrey was fouled and went to the line. He made both shots. Down 7 – 0, Rockford Lutheran took a time out to regroup with 6:42 left. Unable to get inside, the Crusaders concentrated on their three-point shooting. They scored a quick six points, but the Bucs matched that with a pair of threes of their own. Brandon Fowler got a shot under the basket and drew the foul. He made a free throw to give the Bucs a 20 – 8 lead. Belvidere shifted their defense to more man to man. On offense, the Bucs were content to bide their time and look for opportunities as they presented themselves. Moe Shahbain drove in and was able to pull off the defenders from Brandon Fowler waiting under the basket. Eric Lighthall hit another three-pointer at the buzzer, but the Bucs were up 22 – 12.
The Bucs has completely controlled the tempo of the game in the first period, but Rockford Lutheran perfected their three-point shots in the second period. The Bucs, who had been concentrating much of their defense inside the paint, had to spread out. The Crusaders were able to slip in now and then to score inside and whittle down the Belvidere lead. Brandon Fowler drove inside, missed, but picked up his own rebound to score and give Rockford Lutheran their first lead of the night, 27 – 26, with 4:09 left in the half. The Bucs seemed out of focus and the Crusaders extended their lead to six before Belvidere came back. Tyler Barr nailed a three-point shot with less than two minutes left. The Crusaders missed a shot, Wade Mootrey picked up the rebound and passed to Fowler. He buried another three-pointer to tie things up and the crowd came to life. The Crusaders went to a full court defense in the final seconds of the half, but Brandon Fowler managed to get a step ahead and shoot at the buzzer. The ball rolled around the rim and dropped in; the crowd went wild.
Unfortunately, the lead didn’t last long in the third period. Rockford Lutheran took control of the game with accurate shooting. The Bucs did challenge when going man to man. Their aggressive defense temporarily tripped up the Crusaders, but it didn’t seem to last long. Still, the Bucs were able to keep in the game, down only 47 – 43 going into the fourth period.
Both teams knuckled down on defense, limiting the scoring opportunities. However, the Bucs were able to tilt the balance slightly in their favor as they had more of an inside game than Rockford Lutheran. George Waddell bounced the ball to Brandon Fowler for a jump shot in the paint to tie the game at 49. Tyler Barr picked up a rebound and was fouled as he rushed cross court. He made both shots at the line to give the Bucs a 51 – 49 lead with 5:20 left. The Crusaders tied it up again, but they were over the foul limit. Fowler went to the line and made both shots, giving the Bucs a 53 – 51 lead with 2:56 left. Wade Mootrey also went to the line and made one of two. The Bucs were up by three-points going into the last minute of the game and the Crusaders stepped up. Ben Easter found a shot inside, but Tyler Barr was fouled. He made both shots to keep the lead at three-points. Now the Bucs were over the foul limit as well. Easter went to the line and made two free throws for Rockford Lutheran. Immediately Tyler Barr was fouled inbound. He made one of two. The Bucs had a 57 – 55 lead. With 17 seconds left on the clock, the Crusaders went to work. They missed a three-pointer, but got the ball back. They missed a shot inside, but Andrew Wieting was fouled with 2.7 seconds left. He made both free throws to tie the game and send it into overtime.
Overtime. The last four minutes of the season. Both sets of fans were pouring almost as much energy out as the teams on the court. With ten fouls a piece, any mistake by either team meant a free throw. The Bucs made the first mistake. Ben Easter went to the line and made one of two, but Wade Mootrey hit one of two a moment later to tie things up again. Rockford Lutheran attempted a three, missed and Moe Shahbain picked up the rebound. A pass to Brandon Fowler and he scored as he was fouled. He missed the free throw, but the Bucs were up two. That didn’t last long. The Crusaders hit three of four at the line to take a one point lead with 1:06 left. After missing a shot, the Bucs were forced to foul the Crusaders to stop the clock. Unfortunately, they hit both shots and the Bucs were down by three with 26 seconds left. The Bucs got the ball inbounds and Brandon Fowler had a clear shot at a three-pointer. He missed, but was fouled with 5.4 seconds on the clock. He hit the first free throw, but missed the second. On his third shot, he deliberately bounced the ball hard off the backboard so the Bucs could pick up the rebound. Unfortunately, the Crusaders came up with it. They hit their last two free throws as the Bucs were forced to foul again to try to get the ball back. The final score: Rockford Lutheran 65, Belvidere 61.
With the loss, the Belvidere Bucs finish their season with a 13 – 16 record. The Bucs can be proud of the fact that their season was one of narrow losses rather than blow outs. First year coach Aaron Pearson changed the style of play, emphasizing speed and Belvidere proved they could play with anyone in the NIC-10, giving such powerhouses as Boylan and Auburn some close calls. We congratulate Belvidere on an exciting season and look forward to next year.