ROCK FALLS – Last year when the Illinois High School Association decided to once again tinker with the school classification system in Illinois, its conclusion was to divide the sports into equal groups among all IHSA members. In boys’ basketball, that meant a bump up to Class 3A for Mendota.
Consequently, the Trojans’ task come postseason tournament time would seemingly become more difficult, because by being the fifth smallest school in 3A, they were almost assured of playing schools with larger enrollments. But instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the Mendota coaching staff and players decided they would just have to play the hand they were dealt.
Now that the postseason is here, the Trojans are coming up aces. Assigned to the six-team Rock Falls Regional, as expected, Mendota was the smallest school in the field. And by being seeded fourth, not many gave the Trojans a chance.
But Mendota (19-12) swept through the tournament like a whirlwind, destroying three teams in its path, the final victim being neighbor LaSalle-Peru (19-12), which was no match for the Trojans in a 67-56 MHS victory in Friday’s championship game.
The regional title win was Mendota’s first since 1999 when it defeated Amboy, and vaulted it into the Peoria Class 3A Sectional. Tuesday's semifinal game with Bartonville Limestone has now been moved 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to Washington High School and Wednesday's semifinal between Peoria Central and Galesburg to Thursday. Friday's finals will remain as scheduled at the Renaissance Coliseum on the campus of Bradley University.
Much like L-P did to Ottawa two days before, this game was essentially decided within the first few minutes of the opening tip. The Trojans took control from the get-go, feeding off of a Trae Blumhorst three-pointer from the top of the key just seconds into the contest. Mendota led from wire-to-wire, and even when the Cavaliers made several attempts at a comeback in the second half, the Trojans had an answer every time.
“Before we started the tournament I told the boys we needed three games played hard, smart and with our Trojan style,” said an elated Mendota coach Jan Thompson. “I told them if they’d do that, they’d have a great shot at being champs. They listened, and now we are regional champs.”
Mendota led 16-7 after the first quarter, and then it opened the second frame with a basket by Evan Carroll and a three-ball by Jon Gehm to go up by a 21-7 count. The Trojans settled for a 36-24 halftime advantage.
L-P cut the deficit down to single digits early in the third period (38-29), but a three-point play by Blumhorst also resulted in a technical foul on the Cavalier bench, and Blumhorst added one more free toss to increase Mendota’s margin to 42-29.
The Cavs closed with four points at 45-41 with 54 seconds left in the third quarter, but Blumhorst drained a 15-footer with three seconds left to give the Trojans a 47-41 lead at quarter’s end.
The final four minutes became the James Carroll Show. The super soph scored 12 of Mendota’s final 14 points, including eight of eight from the free throw line, to seal the victory.
Carroll finished with a game-high 22 points. He was 12 of 13 from the line. Blumhorst ended with 15 points, while O’Sadnick chipped in with 10. Soderholm’s 17 tallies led four Cavaliers in double figures.
Blumhorst’s eight rebounds paced the Trojans, while Evan Carroll had three assists and Prescott picked off three steals.
Mendota was good on 44 percent of its field goal attempts and 85 percent of its free throws. L-P shot 38 percent from the floor and 69 percent from the stripe. The Trojans owned a 24-23 rebounding edge, while Mendota committed 11 turnovers, one less than L-P.
“This was a goal set up by our seniors at the beginning of the year,” Thompson said. “We’ve lived by that goal all season and we were able to accomplish it. This was a big win for Mendota.”