Boys basketball: Eastland turns up the pressure, pulls away from South Beloit in 1A sectional semifinal

Cougars force 15 turnovers, use 29-14 second-half run to beat Sobos

Eastland's Peyton Spears (20) and Adam Awender (12) trap South Beloit's Ross Roberston at mid court on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024 at the 1A River Ridge Sectional.

HANOVER – Going into Tuesday’s Class 1A River Ridge Sectional semifinal against South Beloit, Eastland had two points of emphasis in its game plan: double-team 6-foot-8 junior center Ross Robertson and force the Sobos’ guards to turn the ball over.

The Cougars did both with solid results, creating 15 turnovers and limiting the towering South Beloit big man to 13 points and nine rebounds in a 50-35 win.

“Our game plan was to wear their guards down, just be all over them all over the court,” Eastland junior guard Adam Awender said. “And just to limit Ross. Always have two guys on him in the paint, and just keep him from scoring the ball.”

“Our game plan was definitely to turn over the guards on top of running our orange press, and we executed that really well,” Eastland sophomore forward Parker Krogman said. “They had like double the turnovers we did, so that was really good.”

No. 1 seed Eastland (26-9) will face the winner of Wednesday’s Fulton vs. Pecatonica sectional semifinal in the championship at 7 p.m. Friday.

On Tuesday, No. 3-seeded South Beloit (25-8) held the early advantage against Eastland, taking a 9-6 lead after one quarter with a pair of two-point baskets from Robertson, one from senior forward Desmond Hampton and a 3-pointer from freshman guard Coltan Porter.

Eastland's Parker Krogman (33) gets ready to put up a shot as South Beloit's Ross Robertson (2) defends on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024 action at the 1A River Ridge Sectional in Hanover.

The Cougars had answers in the second quarter, however, briefly taking the lead with an 8-0 run in the first 1:30 before matching the Sobos’ 21 points at halftime.

“I think we started getting to our press a little bit more. We started really ramping up on ‘D’ and that made their guards uncomfortable,” Krogman said. “And going in, that was our game plan – was to turn those guards over – that’s where we found their weaknesses at.”

Junior guard Peyton Spears sparked the Cougars early in the second quarter, hitting a left-corner 3 and a deep left-wing 3 around Awender’s steal and fast-break layup for a 14-9 lead.

Senior forward Trevor Janssen made a free-throw-line jumper off a Spears inbounds pass, then Awender made three out of four free throws 16 seconds apart to stretch to a 19-12 lead.

The Sobos responded with a 7-0 run to tie the game, then Krogman hit two free throws and Robertson made a layup in the last 1:19 to keep the game tied at halftime.

“I think we started knocking down some shots,” Awender said about what changed from the first quarter to the second. “We started anticipating on defense instead of reacting.”

The Cougars started to pull away in the third quarter.

Krogman hit a midrange jumper off a Janssen offensive rebound and assist, then finished a falling layup after spinning around Robertson to give Eastland a 25-24 lead with 4:55 to play. The Cougars never trailed after that and expanded their lead to 34-27 after three quarters.

Eastland's Adam Awender (12) runs the offense against South Beloit on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024 at the 1A River Ridge Sectional in Hanover.

“After we turned them over a few times, we kind of spaced it out, made South Beloit come out of their zone a little bit more,” Krogman said. “That created a lot of openings, a lot of easy dump-downs, and then in the ending minutes we just made free throws.”

In the fourth quarter, Awender scored eight more points, including six from the free-throw line, to help ice the game. Krogman scored five more points during the 16-8 closing run.

“We knew they were going to get tired. We’re a pretty well-conditioned team,” Awender said. “We’re going to run the ball up and down the court, and they started getting tired and missing shots, and that’s when we take advantage.”

Krogman and Awender tied with a game-high 16 points. Awender had four assists, three rebounds and three steals, and Krogman chipped in three rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Spears had seven points, three rebounds and two assists, and Janssen added six points and five rebounds for the Cougars.

Porter scored nine points on three 3-pointers, and senior guard Syncere Fane dished out five assists for the Sobos.

“By the fourth quarter, we were down seven. When they start holding the ball against us, and we have to come out and guard it, that’s not where we’re at our best,” South Beloit coach Matt Stucky said. “They were always trying to drive on us and get easy ones, and it’s hard for us to come back when we’re down multiple possessions and team’s want to hold it. They did a good job getting the lead late in the third quarter and then just executing in the fourth quarter.”

South Beloit's Ross Roberston (2) brings down a defensive rebound between Eastland's Braden Anderson (22) and Trevor Janssen (11) on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024 at the 1A River Ridge Sectional.
Dan Wussow

Dan Wussow

Dan is the sports editor for Sauk Valley Media. Previously, he wrote for The Post-Crescent in his hometown of Appleton, WI.