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Mooseheart's Makur Puou (32) grabs a rebound during his team's win over Hinckley-Big Rock in Elgin Friday evening. | Michael R. Schmidt ~ For Sun-Times Media
The long arms of the Mooseheart defense did in Hinckley-Big Rock Friday night.
The Red Ramblers got a game-high 18 points from 6-foot-7 junior point guard Mangisto Deng and 17 points and 12 rebounds from 6-10 Makur Puou, but their shot-altering 1-3-1 zone was the key to a 55-38 win over the top-seeded Royals in the Westminster Christian Class 1A Regional title game.
“It’s just hard, with their long arms and tall people in the lane clogging up everything. That’s hard to simulate in practice,” said Hinckley senior guard Bernie Conley, who was limited to just seven points -- half his season average -- on just 2 of 16 shooting.
The Royals had shot well from the perimeter in games past, pouring in 25 points in the fourth quarter to win by six in a meeting between the two teams in December.
Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said getting out to defend the perimeter was a point of emphasis for his team in preparing for Friday’s matchup.
“I was really, really pleased with our defense,” he said. “We ran the 1-3-1 better than we’ve run it all year. We played straight up man the first time. We played defense really well. We’re so long, it is just hard to shoot.”
It was a historic win for Mooseheart (25-4), which captures its first-ever regional title and only the second postseason crown in its history. The first was a district title in 1964.
“I was 1 year old, born in 1963,” said Ahrens.
Hinckley players missed their first four shots and the Ramblers jumped to a 7-2 lead to open the game. It was 11-4 after one quarter and Deng scored five points in a 7-0 run that closed the second quarter and boosted a 22-13 advantage to 16 points.
The Royals (24-5) weren’t done, though.
They forced three straight Mooseheart turnovers to open the third quarter and sandwiched Conley’s lone trey of the night and a Zack Michels (12 points, five rebounds, two blocks) baseline reverse layup to cut the deficit to 11 with possession and a chance to get it to single digits.
The Ramblers made a defensive stand, though. Junior guard Peter Kurowski then sank a three-pointer that seemed to settle the Mooseheart nerves.
Deng hit a trey to allow his team to close the quarter with a 38-24 lead. Hinckley’s Jared Madden (seven points) fouled out with 5:48 remaining and the Royals’ comeback hopes faded fast.
“They take up a lot of space and we’re not very tall,” said Hinckley-Big Rock coach Bill Sambrookes. “We tried to get the ball inside, penetrate their zone, put up some shots and draw some fouls. In the first quarter, we changed a lot of shots and didn’t hit ‘em and got off to that slow start.
“In the second half we had a lot of energy and showed a lot of heart and character and would not go away.”
Conley and the other four senior starters for the Royals – Madden, Michels, Mitch Ruh and Michael Bayler – have been on the Royals’ varsity squad since they were sophomores and are part of a 10-man senior class on this year’s team.
“That’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, walk into that lockerroom and say good-bye to those guys,” said Conley, his voice shaking. “They’ve been my family for the last 10 years.”
Sambrookes struggled, too.
“I’ve spent the last three seasons with those top five,” he said. “We had a lot of high hopes. I’ve had all 10 of ‘em with me since fifth grade, coming to camps, and on up each grade through 12th. They all stayed together, all accepted their roles.
“Nobody moved in. Nobody moved out. It was homegrown talent that played the best that they could. To get kids like that in a school our size, it doesn’t come around all the time.”
Hinckley was shooting for its second straight regional title and just it’s eighth since the mid-1950s.