DEKALB — Fieldcrest junior Brady Sanders wanted to treat Tuesday’s 2A DeKalb Supersectional game against Rockford Lutheran like any other game.
That was probably never possible for the Fieldcrest boys’ basketball team, which lost 72-46 to end the longest postseason run in school history.
“I should have come out and taken it like another game,” Sanders said. “I didn’t do it. Not in the first quarter. I don’t know why, I just didn’t.”
The gravity of the moment hadn’t affected the Knights (29-3) in previous games – Fieldcrest won three overtime games on their way to the first sectional title in the program’s 20-year history. They beat Monmouth-Roseville 75-69 in double overtime to capture the Princeton Sectional last week.
But on Tuesday, the Knights crumbled under the bright lights of the Convocation Center at Northern Illinois University, where they shot just 34 percent.
“We just didn’t react well tonight, maybe with the bright lights, big floor,” coach Matt Winkler said.
Early on, the Knights handled the pressure well. Throughout the first half, the teams looked equal.
Six different players scored for Fieldcrest in the first quarter, and Rockford Lutheran (29-3) led 16-12.
Rockford Lutheran picked up its offensive pace in the second quarter, and Fieldcrest was able to keep up. Brady Sanders had seven points and six rebounds in the half, and the Knights trailed just 23-20 with 4:23 remaining in the half.
Rockford Lutheran, though, went on a 12-5 run to close out the half, and the Crusaders never looked back.
“Any time we’d get it within three or two, we’d feel like we were getting the momentum going on our side,” senior Trent Hartzler said. “Once we got close, they just picked it up and extended the lead.”
The Knights were able to cut the Rockford Lutheran lead to six in the third quarter, but they couldn’t reduce the deficit any more.
“I thought we had a little momentum when they cut it to six, but they just pounded the boards,” Winkler said. “They did a nice job, and they hit shots.”
Rockford Lutheran cut off any hope of a game-saving run for Fieldcrest by repeatedly beating the Knights down the floor after made baskets for easy layups. Led by freshman Nate Wieting’s 23 points, Rockford Lutheran shot 25-of-44 for a 57 percent clip.
“We haven’t seen that before, especially not in our conference,” Sanders said. “Every time we made a shot, it seemed like within two seconds they were already making a layup on the other end.”
After scoring 30 points in Fieldcrest’s sectional championship win over Monmouth-Roseville, Sanders had just five in the second half Tuesday.
By the end of the third quarter, Rockford Lutheran led 51-36. Midway through the fourth, the lead ballooned to 20.
Sanders has seen extra pressure from defenses all postseason.
In previous games, that pressure didn’t work. Tuesday was a different story.
“I’ve seen it, they just did it better than every else,” Sanders said.
“They always came with two people. They’re quicker than everybody else, they can jump higher than everybody else, they’re just a lot better than everybody else we’ve played.”
After winning 21 straight games, Fieldcrest’s season ended just short of the state semifinals.
But after completing the most successful season in school history, Winkler knows his team has something to be proud of.
“The last two weeks have been awesome,” Winkler said.
“They’ll cherish this. It hurts right now. We’ve got a lot of upset individuals in our locker room, getting so close to the state tournament, but we got beat by a better team.”