Boys basketball: Fulton falls to Pecatonica in Class 1A sectional semifinal

Indians start hot, ride second-half surge to beat Steamers

Fulton’s Baylen Damhoff comes off the court near the end of the Steamers’ loss to Pecatonica during a class 1A sectional semifinal Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 at River Ridge High School.

HANOVER – Going into a Class 1A River Ridge Sectional semifinal against top-seeded Pecatonica, Fulton knew it needed to bring its A game to emerge with the win and secure its second straight trip to the Sweet 16.

For most of the first half and part of the third quarter, the game was going pretty well for the Steamers – they played the Indians to within four points for the first 2:32 of the third quarter. But once Pecatonica senior guard Mason Peterson hit three 3-pointers in a row in 57 seconds, the Steamers (23-12) never recovered. Pecatonica rolled to a 64-46 win after the 13-2 run initiated by Peterson.

“I was feeling pretty confident, but credit to my teammates to find me when I’m open,” Peterson said. “We got defensive stops, it led to fast-break 3s and led to good offense to convert into those 3s. It was just great.”

“Those 3s were huge,” Pecatonica junior guard Cooper Hoffman said. “It was kind of close then, and then Petey came out and hit three 3s, and it was just like we had the game controlled there. We couldn’t really lose it from then on.”

No. 1-seeded Pecatonica (30-5) will face No. 1-seeded Eastland (26-9) in the sectional championship at 7 p.m. Friday.

The first quarter Wednesday was high-scoring. The Indians took a 24-18 lead after a quarter, led by 10 points from Hoffman. On the Fulton side, senior guard Trevor Tiesman scored seven points, and sophomore forward Landen Leu hit a pair of 3s to keep it a two-possession game in the first quarter.

Fulton’s Landen Leu works against Pecatonica during a class 1A sectional semifinal Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 at River Ridge High School.

“Defensively, we were just trying to keep the Hoffman kid out of the paint. We struggled there a little bit, but then we kind of went to our 2-3 in the second quarter, and we were able to identify their shooters and kind of slow them down a little bit,” Fulton coach RJ Coffey said. “Offensively, I thought we were getting some good looks. We were attacking the rim, we weren’t finishing, and I don’t think we knocked down enough shots from the perimeter.

“In the third quarter, really, we came out pretty well offensively, we were trading bucket for bucket, we just couldn’t find a way to get enough stops.”

The Indians opened the second quarter with a 6-0 run to expand a 12-point lead, but Fulton rallied to within 33-26 by halftime. Leu sparked a 6-0 run for the Steamers, scoring back-to-back layups 40 seconds apart – the second of which came off a halfcourt dish from junior guard Braeden Brennan. Junior forward Dom Kramer capped the run with another layup just past the two-minute mark.

In the third quarter, Leu drew the Steamers within four points on two occasions, but that’s as close as they would get.

“I think the first quarter, we made our shots basically, and then the second quarter, they just weren’t falling,” Leu said. “We played good. We played with them, there’s just not really a whole lot you can do when shots aren’t going down. But we played our hearts out.”

Only 24 seconds into the third quarter, Leu nailed a 3 to draw within 33-29. With 5:48 remaining, he hit a short shot off a Tiesman inbounds pass to make it 37-33.

But the Indians answered with a 13-2 run.

After the three 3s by Peterson, Hoffman made a layup and junior guard Jordan Gassman made a reverse layup off a baseline drive to stretch to a 50-35 lead with 2:58 left. Hoffman put an exclamation point on the 22-point third quarter, hitting a step-back 3 with two seconds left.

Pecatonica led 55-39 after three quarters. Fulton never got closer than 12 points in the fourth quarter.

Fulton’s Trevor Tiesman is fouled by Pecatonica’s Drew Williams during a class 1A sectional semifinal Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 at River Ridge High School.

Steamers all-state senior forward Baylen Damhoff was limited to just 10 points in the game thanks to an outstanding defensive effort by the Indians.

“I gotta credit Drew [Williams] and Jordan [Gassman] for everything they did on him. They really shut him down,” Hoffman said. “They didn’t really allow him to do much, so I think I’ve gotta give credit to them.”

Peterson credited the coach’s game plan for the strong performance.

“Just a great game plan by our coach [Bobby Heisler], and us executing it. We struggled in the first quarter defensively, but then we locked it in in that second quarter, and we just took off after that,” Peterson said. “Making sure that Baylen Damhoff didn’t get easy touches, making sure he was always contested. We knew every single player, what they wanted, what their weaknesses were, what there strengths were, and we just executed on that.”

Leu finished with 17 points and five rebounds; Tiesman totaled 12 points and three assists; Damhoff added three rebounds, three assists and two blocks; and Kramer chipped in five points, five rebounds and three assists for the Steamers.

Hoffman led the Indians with a game-high 25 points and added six rebounds and two assists; Peterson tallied 20 points and three rebounds with six made 3-pointers; junior guard Jaxon Diedrich stuffed the stat sheet with nine points, five rebounds, four steals and three assists; and Gassman added six points and six rebounds.

“This group’s accomplished so much. Obviously, tonight didn’t go our way, but I’m so proud of what our guys have done this year,” Coffey said. “This senior group, back-to-back conference titles, back-to-back regional titles, last year with Sweet 16. They’ve accomplished so much. This group’s given us so much, and overall I’m just super proud of all of their accomplishments and everything they did. We’re going to miss them. We’ve got seven good seniors, and we’re going to miss them all.”

Fulton’s Dom Kramer puts up a shot against Pecatonica during a class 1A sectional semifinal Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 at River Ridge High School.
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.