SJO defeats Salt Fork 73-55, claims regional title.

Most oftentimes, a good regular season is rewarded in the postseason.

The St. Joseph-Ogden Spartans, who had another banner season under the direction of head coach Brian Brooks, were repaid for their success with a top-seed in the Class 2A Regional that was held at Salt Fork High School in Catlin this past week.  The Spartans played Heritage in their first game of the regional after the Hawks knocked out Westville 46-43 on Monday night. 

The Spartans defeated Heritage 65-36 on Tuesday night, putting them in the championship game of the regional on Friday night.

SJO received balanced scoring from their starters, with Riley Baker leading the way with 13 points.  Jordan Brooks added 12 points, while Bryce Haake and Joel Orcutt each scored 11 points apiece for the Spartans, who led wire-to-wire.  SJO led 21-11 after the first quarter, and extended that advantage to 35-18 at the half before cruising to the victory.  The Spartans shot 26-53 (49%) from the field, including 7-19 (36%) from beyond the arc.  SJO was 6-9 from the foul line as well, and outrebounded the Hawks by a 31-16 margin. 

Heritage, who sees their season end, was led in scoring by Jared Stevens, who scored 13 points.  Kane Davison added 8 points, while Stuart Wolf chipped in 6 points for the Hawks, who struggled from the field, making just 14-39 (35%), and only 3-13 (23%) from beyond the arc.  Heritage went to the free throw line 8 times and made 5 of those attempts. 

With Salt Fork defeating Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-Hammond 64-45 on Monday night, the host Storm moved on to play the Spartans in the title game with the chance to move on to sectional play next week. 

SJO used a strong second quarter to defeat Salt Fork 73-56 and win their sixth regional title in the last seven years.  Bryce Haake led all scorers with 21 points to pace the Spartans (26-3) to the victory, while Riley Baker added 19 points. 

“We didn’t do a very good job rebounding in the first quarter, and we let them have a few put-backs, and maybe it was just jitters of playing in the regional championship, but we settled down and played much better in the second half”, Brooks said about his team’s performance in that first quarter. 

Jordan Brooks, who came into the game averaging right around 14 points per game, hit that average square on against the Storm, finishing with 14.  Jack Cook also added 8 points for the Spartans, who outrebounded Salt Fork 26-21.  SJO shot 26-48 (54%) from the field for the game, including 6-14 (42%) from the three-point line.  The Spartans did manage a little bit of a struggle from the foul line, making just 15-24 from the foul line, including missing several front ends of the bonus in the second half. 

“It (regional title) never gets old, and this was a goal of ours from the beginning of the season.  Playing on the team as a sophomore, I got a taste of it that year and this year, our seniors willed us to this win”, the younger Brooks remarked about what it feels like to get yet another regional title for the school.

Salt Fork, who sees their season come to an end at 23-8, was led in scoring by Brady McMasters with 17 points.  Two other Storm players notched double figures in points, with Blaize Cobb-Griffin scoring 16 points, while Payton Taylor added 15.  For the game, Salt Fork shot 22-43 (51%) from the field, but made just 1-7 (14%) from long range.  The Storm also missed their share of free throws, only connecting on 11-18 from the stripe. 

With the win, the Spartans advance to the Class 2A Sectional at Maroa-Forsyth High School next week, and their opponent on Wednesday will be a familiar one in the Monticello Sages.  Monticello defeated Gibson City/Melvin-Sibley 45-43 on Friday night at the Hoopeston Area Regional, and are coming off a final four appearance in the 2017 State Tournament.  Monticello defeated the Spartans 56-36 last month in St. Joseph, and according to Brooks, this time could very well be a different situation.

“I told the guys after we played them (Monticello) that we didn’t give them our best shot, and that if things worked out in the regionals, we’d more than likely get another crack at them”, Brooks said about the first meeting with the Sages. 

The sectional will have an Illini Prairie Conference flair to it, with the first game on Tuesday night featuring the Bloomington Central Catholic Saints taking on the Decatur St. Teresa Bulldogs.  The winner of both games will square off on Friday night for the opportunity to advance to the super-sectional, which will be held on Tuesday, March 6 at the University of Illinois at Springfield.  Game time with Monticello on Wednesday will begin at 7:00 pm.


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