Spartans gearing up for stretch

A chance to win the SangamA chance to win the Sangamon Valley Conference title still exists for the St. Joseph-Ogden boys basketball team.
A chance to knock off a Class 2A state-ranked foe on a neutral court, however, didn’t pan out the way the Spartans wanted.
SJO suffered a hard-fought 38-34 loss on Saturday to Pleasant Plains at the Rivertoon Shootout, which came after a 53-41 home win against SVC opponent Momence on Friday night.
“It is always tough to play two games in a 24 hour span, but we have done it multiple times throughout the year so we didn’t feel that was a factor in Saturday’s game,” said head coach Brian Brooks. “Pleasant Plains was also playing two games in a 24 hour span.”
The Spartans (22-3, 6-0 SVC) played at nonconference foe LeRoy on Tuesday night, but results were unavailable at press time. SJO ends the regular season at 7:30 p.m. this Friday against SVC rival St. Thomas More and has a chance to wrap up the conference championship with a win against the Sabers. SJO should likes its odds since it is 8-0 on its home court this season, with Friday’s win against Momence its first home game since Jan. 4.
“It would be special to win a conference championship Friday night, and yes, on our home court in front of our fans would make it even more special,” Brooks said. “It was one of the goals our team set at the beginning of the year, so it is nice to be in a position on the last night of the season to potentially achieve that goal.”
Junior guard Dalton Walsh led SJO with 12 points on four three-pointers against Pleasant Plains, but the Spartans could not hold on to a 29-26 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Junior forward Brent Schluter added seven points.
“Dalton was very aggressive in the second half on Saturday against Pleasant Plains,” Brooks said. “He gave us a chance to win when other guys shots weren’t falling.  He has been a big part of our team the entire year, but he has been awfully well the past few weeks.”
In the win against Momence, a balanced offense paved the way for a victory.
Senior forward Louis Acklin had a team-high 13 points to go along with seven rebounds while Walsh (12 points), senior guard Chase Patton (10 points) and junior guard Nate Michael (10 points) provided steady contributions.
“The depth of our scoring has been a huge plus for us all year.  We continue to have different guys step up on the offensive end of the floor,” Brooks said. “It was definitely a factor again against Momence.”
While an SVC title would cap off a stellar regular season for the Spartans, SJO will soon turn its attention to the postseason. The Spartans are the top seed in the 2A Hoopeston Area Regional, and will meet either No. 4 Oakwood or No. 5 Georgetown-Ridge Farm at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20, in a regional semifinal game. Oakwood and G-RF play at 6 p.m. next Monday. A win in the regional semifinal game would send SJO into the regional championship game at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 22. Westville, the second seed, will face either No. 3 Bismarck-Henning or No. 6 Hoopeston Area in the second regional semifinal game at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 20.
“I have always said that the Regional portion of the post season is probably the most difficult part for various reasons.  Westville and Bismarck are playing as well as anyone in our area right now,” Brooks said. “Both are playing good basketball, and their kids are playing with a lot of confidence.  We look forward to next week, as this is what our guys have been preparing for all season.”
The Spartans captured a home victory behind Louis Acklin’s 13 points and seven rebounds. Dalton Walsh (12), Chase Patton (10) and Nate Michael (10) also scored in double figures for SJO.


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