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Mooseheart's Mangisto Deng is defended by Hinckley-Big Rock's Jared Madden in front of a capacity crowd in Hinckley on Wednesday, Dec. 05, 2012. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Ron Ahrens knows the storyline.
“Hey, everybody wants to go see the 7-footer. I would too,” he said, noting his Mooseheart team’s 7:30 p.m. final in tonight’s Westminster Christian Class 1A Regional has been moved to the Lindner Fitness Center at Judson University to accommodate what is expected to be a large crowd.
“The Westminster AD told me there would be enough seating. He figures H-BR will bring a big crowd and he asked me how many we would have. I told him I don’t know, 300 maybe. But a lot of other people will be interested.”
The 20-5 and second-seeded Ramblers — featuring Sudanese juniors 7-0 Akim Nyang, 6-10 Makur Puou and 6-7 Mangisto Deng — advanced Wednesday by beating host Westminster Christian 45-30. They meet 24-4 and top-seeded Hinckley-Big Rock — featuring just one starter taller than 6-1, 6-3 Michael Bayler — at 7:30 p.m. for the right to advance to next week’s Mooseheart Sectional.
“Here’s the thing,” continued Ahrens. “They’re (24-4) and they’re still the best team in the area, ranked something like second or third in the state (in 1A). That hasn’t changed.
“Yes, we’ve gotten better (as the season has gone on), but so have they. It sounds funny, but we’re really underdogs. They have a better record and beat us head to head. It will be very tough for us to come out and win.”
He points to one reason, in particular.
“They’re one of the best high school passing teams I’ve ever seen. That’s why they’re so good. They’re very good at passing the ball until they get easy shots. Then, they’ve got guys who can knock them down,” Ahrens said.
While Puou (20 ppg) and Deng (14.3) lead the Red Ramblers, who are striving to win the school’s first postseason title since claiming a district crown back in 1964, the Royals counter with plenty of balance.
Bernie Conley, a 5-7 senior guard, leads the way with a 13.7 average. Jared Madden (12.6), Bayler (11.2) and 6-1 post Zach Michels (9.2) are all capable of leading the team in scoring on a given night.
“Just from watching them play, I think Bernie is the straw that stirs the drink,” Ahrens said, “but if Bernie is not hitting, Madden can. And if it’s not Madden, Bayler can go out and hit for 15-20.”
The Mooseheart coach knows H-BR is good at applying pressure, too, but notes “we’ve faced that a lot this season and are handling pressure better and running press break better than early in the year.”
He thinks the decision could come down to H-BR’s offense vs. his team’s defense.
“You never know when you’re gonna have a cold shooting night, but your defense should be a constant and help you win championships,” he said.
Class 2A Westmont Regional
Third seed Aurora Christian (18-11) and first seed Immaculate Conception (22-5) are in different divisions of the Suburban Christian Conference and have not played this season, though they share several common opponents.
The Eagles finished last in the league’s Blue Division while the Knights won the Gold Division. Each of them lost to St. Edward early in the year but came back to beat the Green Wave twice. ACS did so 78-66 Wednesday to advance to tonight’s 7:30 p.m. title bout. IC downed Lisle 53-44 to advance.
And both are riding six-game winning streaks.
Coach Pat McNamara’s club needs to find a way to stop IC’s standout 6-3 guard Demetrius Carr, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds in his team’s win Wednesday.
“There’s a reason why they’re the No. 1 seed. He’s it,” Lisle coach Mark LaScala said after his team’s loss.
ACS can counter with good size and athleticism in athletic 6-3 junior guard Johnathan Harrell and 6-4 Cory Windle and 6-4 Ryan McQuade. Harrell leads the Eagles in rebounding (6.0) while Windle, who had 26 points in the semifinal win, and McQuade (17 off the bench) can put the ball in the basket.