Mooseheart's historic boys basketball season is going to end on the largest stage possible.
The Ramblers used a strong second half to defeat Unity 74-61 on Friday at Peoria Carver Arena and move into Saturday's IHSA Class 1A state championship game. Mooseheart sits 32 minutes from the school's first team title.
"I felt like we played pretty well in some spurts and then I felt like we were just hanging on," Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said. "It felt like we could never, ever put them away."
Mooseheart faces Heyworth in Saturday's 2 p.m. title game.
The Ramblers were set to celebrate their victory with dinner at Pekin Moose Lodge 916, with some of the 1.1 million men and women who have made Mooseheart a reality for 101 years.
"It's so great for our community," Ahrens said. "We're the largest childcare facility in Illinois. We have the largest fan club of anybody in the United States because we have 1 million Moose members. They're going to enjoy it just as much as we are, and probably more. We love that they have given us the opportunity to do this."
Mooseheart (28-3) needed to rally in the opening half against Unity (20-12) after falling behind by as much as 12-4 in the opening quarter.
Slowly, the Ramblers recovered and led 30-27 in the final seconds of the first half. Mangisto Deng fed Hameed Odunewu near halfcourt, and Odunewu took a shot that dropped through the back as the halftime buzzer sounded.
"They had just hit a 3 right before that," Odunewu said. "(Deng) was inbounding the ball and he was looking at me. He threw a great lead pass and I just threw it up. I was like 'wait, wait, wait, wait, it might go in.' And then it went in."
Mooseheart did not trail nor did Unity tie the game in the second half. The Ramblers surged immediately at the start of the third quarter and forced a Unity timeout with the margin 42-29.
By the end of the quarter, Mooseheart led 54-41 and while Unity rallied repeatedly in the fourth quarter, the lead never dropped below eight points.
Mooseheart's Mangisto Deng led all scorers with 31 points, though Unity's Alex Blickhan scored 29 points for his team.
Secondary scoring helped the Ramblers. Makur Puou added 20 points, 18 rebounds and 6 blocked shots for Mooseheart while Odunewu added 13 points and 5 assists.
For the game, Mooseheart outrebounded Unity 52-32 and blocked 8 Unity shots.
"We rebound the basketball pretty well," Ahrens said. "We like to get it out to the wings. If we can get the ball into Freddie Okito's hands -- our sophomore guard -- he's our floor general and he can help generate things."
Okito scored 7 points, had 8 rebounds, had 3 assists and 2 steals in the contest.
-- Darryl Mellema, Associate Editor, Moose International Dept. of Communication