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PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Blue Devils claim regional title

Feb. 27—ONARGA — For two months, the Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin Blue Devils cruised to victory after victory on its way to a Vermilion County and a Vermilion Valley Conference championship.

But, it wasn't going to be as easy to win the IHSA Class 2A Iroquois West Regional title.

The Blue Devils rallied in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Prairie Central Hawks 20-9 to claim the regional championship Friday night at Iroquois West Middle School with a 54-46 victory.

Reality hit the Blue Devils hard in the first quarter. Prairie Central, who had beaten Bis-Henn/Ross-Al 54-53 on Dec. 9, had jumped out to a 19-9 lead in the game's opening eight minutes.

"We were nervous in the first quarter," admitted junior Micah Stanford.

And it wasn't just one problem for Bis-Henn/Ross-Al.

"We were struggling," said senior Ayden Ingram. "They kept scoring and we couldn't score. We missed a few open shots and we had a couple of uncharacteristic turnovers."

The Blue Devils had to change.

"We just switched our defense," said coach Gary Tidwell.

Instead of a full-court zone press, Bis-Henn/Ross-Al switched for a full-court man press.

"We work on that a lot more and we are more comfortable with it," Ingram added.

The move worked, Bis-Henn/Ross-Al closed within two points (25-23) at halftime as senior Landon Leigh hit a pair of crucial 3-pointers.

Then came the motivation speed from Tidwell.

"We were down 2 points and we had played awful," Tidwell said. "We were doing things that we haven't done all year long, like missing layups and fumbling passes."

While the Blue Devils (30-3) played better in the third quarter, they still saw their deficit expand to 37-34 but things were starting to turn.

Bis-Henn/Ross-Al scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to take a 39-37 with 5:46 left. Prairie Central (19-13) was able to tie the contest at 39-39 and again at 41-41 but the Hawks never regained the lead.

"Coach believed in us and that calmed us down a lot in the second half," Stanford said. "Prairie Central is a very tough team and they are very disciplined, but we just had to play our game."

Junior Chaz Dubois added, "coach just gave us the inspiration we needed at halftime. He told us what we needed to do and we did it."

Both Stanford and Dubois came up with difference-making offensive rebounds in the final minute of regulation.

Bis-Henn/Ross-Al was holding a 46-43 lead in the final minute when Dubois missed the second of two free throws but there was Stanford to get the offensive rebound.

"Honestly, it was a lucky bounce," admitted Stanford, as the ball bounced over the hands of Prairie Central forward Gage Steinringer.

After two passes, Ingram was fouled and sent to the line.

The senior missed both, but this time Dubois slipped between the Prairie Central players to not only get the rebound, but he converted it into a layup and a 48-43 advantage with 39 seconds left.

"We do a lot of rebounding drills in practice," he said. "I wanted it, I fought for it and I got it.

"It was a little bit of luck and a little bit of determination."

The Blue Devils would seal their first regional title since 2020 with six straight free throws — four from Ingram — in the final 30 seconds.

"This is the very first regional championship that I've been a part of," said Ingram, who finished with a team-high 19 points. "This is what we strive for at Bismarck."

Admittedly, the title was bittersweet for Tidwell, who a member of the 1989 and 1990 Final Four teams at Prairie Central.

"I know a lot of people over there and going into this game, I saw it as a win-win," Tidwell said. "Either, we were going to survive and advance or I was going to see my alma mater advance into the sectional tournament.

"They had a great year and I'm very proud of the coaches and players in that program."

Prairie Central's leading scorer Tyler Curl was severely limited by an ankle injury and he managed just 7 points, while senior guard Levi Goad had a team-high 19.

"Levi played awesome, but we took a lot of out of him with our full-court pressure defense," Tidwell said.

Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin advances to the Class 2A sectional tournament at Clifton Central where the Blue Devils will face the second-rated and undefeated Beecher Bobcats (32-0) in a semifinal contest ay 7 p.m. Wednesday at 7 p.m. The first semifinal game at 7 p.m. on Tuesday will pit Fieldcrest, rated No. 6 in the final AP Poll, and Manteno.

The winners will play Friday for the sectional title.

At Onarga IHSA Class 2A regional championship Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 54, Prairie Central 46

Prairie Central (46) — Talen Steindinger 3 1-3 7, Gavin Tredennick 3 0-0 9, Levi Goad 5 9-10 19, Tyler Curl 3 0-0 7, Gage Steindinger 1 0-0 2, Avery Elder 1 0-0 2, Jack Schahrer 0 0-0 0, Cody Steindinger 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 10-13 46.

Bis-Henn/Ross-Al (54) — Keison Peoples 4 4-4 14, Micah Stanford 2 2-2 6, Ayden Ingram 6 6-8 19, Chaz Dubois 3 2-4 8, Caden Keleminic 0 1-2 1, Andrew Thomas 0 0-0 0, Landon Leigh 2 0-0 6. Totals: 17 15-20 54.

Prairie Central 19 6 12 9 — 46

Bis-Henn/Ross-Al 9 14 11 20 — 54

3-point goals — Prairie Central 4 (Tredennick 3, Curl 1). Bis-Henn/Ross-Al 5 (Peoples 2, Leigh 2, Ingram 1). Total fouls — Prairie Central 21, Bis-Henn/Ross-Al 14. Fouled out — T.Steindinger, Elder. Technical foul — Stanford. Officials — Kurt Hartke, Corky Vericker and Greg Walter.

Records — Prairie Central 19-13 overall, Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 30-3.