In the trophy cases at Mooseheart's stadium-fieldhouse complex, there are a number of plaques, cups and assorted trophies from various successes over the school's athletic history.
What you will not find is a team trophy from IHSA competition.
Staff will have to clear space for such a prize, as the Ramblers head this weekend to the IHSA Class 1A boys basketball finals. They earned that trip thanks to a wire-to-wire, 59-41 Tuesday victory over Eastland at the NIU Convocation Center.
"It's an incredible feeling, because it's the first time in the 100-year history we have at Mooseheart," Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said. "It's great that everyone gets to enjoy it. We have over 1 million Moose members who will be able to enjoy it as much as these kids do."
Mooseheart advances to face Unity on Friday in a 2 p.m. semifinal at Peoria Carver Arena. Heyworth meets Sesser-Valier at 12:15 p.m. in the day's other semifinal. Semifinal losers meet at 12:15 on Saturday while the winners meet at 2 p.m. on Saturday for the state title.
"We've got two more games," Ahrens said. "We talked about it from the start of the season, and we've got two more games. We're looking forward to it."
Mooseheart (27-5) used strong defense throughout the game to keep Eastland (26-5) at bay. The Cougars shot 5-for-27 (19 percent) in the first half and only improved to 10-for-36 in the second half. For the game, Eastland shot just 24 percent from the field.
"Our defense was outstanding," Mooseheart senior Makur Puou said. "Everyone came out and played great defense. We talked about it all week, that defense will win our games. So we know what we had to do, play good defense."
Meanwhile, the Ramblers opened a 12-4 lead after the first quarter, edged to 21-13 at halftime, then kept a double-digit lead for most of the second half.
Eastland surged at one point and cut the lead to 12, and had three straight chances to trim the margin to 10 points or less. But when the lead changed size, it was in favor of the Ramblers, who took the lead to 18 points and were never seriously threatened again.
"When it was sort of getting tight, we knew not to panic," Mooseheart sophomore guard Freddie Okito said. "We've been in situations like that before. We just knew that what wins our games is defense."
Puou scored 24 points, added 17 rebounds and 5 blocks to lead Mooseheart. Mangisto Deng added 15 while JJ Odunsi scored 9 points for the victors.
Eastland's hot-shooting guard, Dalton Shaner, was limited to 14 points on 6-for-25 shooting. Skylar Paulson led the Cougars with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
"He's a great player, and we know it," Puou said. "So we tried to keep two people on him, no matter where he went."
-- Darryl Mellema, Associate Editor, Moose International Dept. of Communication