Surging Elgin secures Marengo championship
Midseason trophies are nice, but Elgin boys basketball coach Mike Sitter believed the real prize for his Maroons was a sixth straight win thanks to getting the ball into the right people's hands to close out a victory.
Rockford Christian entered the fourth quarter trailing by 4, but managed a pair of 1-point leads before Elgin's surge led to a 64-58 victory and the championship of Marengo's 66th Annual E.C. Nichols Holiday Classic.
The Maroons (10-4) had regained a 52-51 advantage when Courtese Cooper snared 1 of his 11 rebounds and followed with a soft hook. That was followed by 1 of his 7 blocks that led to a Jakub Zajac layup off the glass for a 54-51 edge with 4:52 remaining. Desmond Douglas and Lavion Baldwin helped the Maroons go a perfect 8-for-8 at the free throw line to secure the triumph.
"What I'm most happy to see is our growth in terms of maturity; this team would've folded last year (in this type of game)," Sitter said. "The free throws showed we got the ball to the right people. We had to close out four games here to get this trophy."
After a reverse layup by Douglas to start the game, the Lions (7-6) followed with a 3-point field goal for the first of two 1-point leads before the first quarter ended with Elgin on top 12-9. Christian rallied for another pair of single-digit leads only to have Zajac drain a left corner 3 for a 29-27 halftime lead. A strong start to the third quarter got Elgin up by 12 (44-32) with 3:58 remaining before the Lions cut the margin in half.
Christian opened the fourth quarter with a 9-2 surge for its last lead of 51-50 prior to Cooper's contributions and the foul line accuracy. Douglas finished with a team-best 16 points with Zajac, Lavion Baldwin and Reggie Cole adding 13, 12, and 11, respectively. Cooper tallied 5 points.
"I try to bring defense to the court first because I believe the defense can also produce our offense at the other end," Cooper said. "It's nice to win a tournament (trophy), but we need to do it again come the postseason. But right now, the next goal is to keep this winning streak going."
"Sometimes we ask him to rebound one on five or even defend one on five," Sitter said of Cooper's play at both ends. "In their last game Christian got 40 from their bigs. We sagged back on our zone a little to help and we got some key stops when we need them. They were not only big in terms of body, but strong as well."