Few secrets remain between boys basketball teams meeting for the fourth time in a season, but Mooseheart still managed to throw something different at Northeast Athletic Conference rival Westminster Christian Wednesday.
Ramblers coach Ron Ahrens opted to hound Westminster guards Will Woodhouse and Colin Brandon with a triangle-and-two defense. That strategy, combined with Mooseheart's 39-19 rebounding dominance, kept the Ramblers within a point of the lead early in the fourth quarter.
However, Westminster Christian erupted for a decisive 14-3 run to pull away for an eventual 44-35 victory in a Class 1A Hinckley-Big Rock regional semifinal.
No. 2 Westminster Christian (17-12) advances to face No. 1 Hinckley-Big Rock (23-6) in Friday's regional title game.
The Warriors are back on the championship stage despite graduating four of five starters from last year's squad, which lost a Class 2A title game to Genoa-Kingston.
"For this team to get back to a regional championship and accomplish what they've done so far is really encouraging," said Westminster Christian coach Bruce Firchau, who notched career victory No. 501.
Westminster Christian led 22-13 at halftime, thanks largely to 10 first-half points from Brandon, who sank a pair of 3-pointers and finished with a game-best 13 points.
Mooseheart (13-17) outscored the Warriors 11-3 in the third quarter, helped by a 12-4 rebounding advantage.
"If we didn't cut it to at least a bucket or two, I thought it was going to be a long second half for us," Ahrens said.
The Ramblers tied the game for the first time with 5:48 left in the fourth quarter when senior Jesse Mennis scored on a putback to knot the score at 30-30. The Ramblers had 4 shots to take the lead spread over their next 2 possessions, but they couldn't cash in.
That's when the Warriors began their final push. Freshman Robert Kleczynski spit 2 free throws to give the Warriors the lead for good. Ninety seconds later, Woodhouse corralled a long rebound and raced the other way for a breakaway layup and a 33-30 lead with 4:06 to play.
Brandon gave the Warriors a 36-30 advantage with 3:09 to play when his 3-pointer from the top of the arc rolled in via the shooter's bounce.
"Colin had two 3s where the ball bounced, bounced and bounced and went in," Firchau said. "I told him, 'You ate just enough Cheerios today to get those two in.'"
Westminster senior forward Josh Beachler sank all 4 free-throw attempts down the stretch to keep the Warriors safely ahead. He scored 10 points and grabbed 5 rebounds, guard Aaron Wiewel scored 5 points and Kleczynski added 5 points and 4 rebounds.
"Mooseheart had a real good idea with the triangle and two,' said Woodhouse, who scored 9 points. "It's a good thing Josh and Aaron came through to get some big layups and Robert, too."