ROCHELLE — The Rochelle Hub varsity basketball team did everything it could to come back during the second half of Tuesday’s home opener against the Sterling Golden Warriors.
Rochelle held a brief first-quarter lead before Sterling froze the Hubs out on defense, rallying off a 22-4 run behind 6-foot-6 forward Lucas Austin, who hit three triples and scored 14 of his 19 points in the second quarter. Despite Sterling losing Austin and starting guard Kyle Billings to foul-outs, Rochelle couldn’t erase the early deficit, falling 71-62 and moving to 1-3 overall.
“I thought Sterling did enough to slow us down,” head coach Tim Thompson said. “They were deflecting the ball and taking away our inside touches and we started shooting more from the perimeter, but we’re not shooting the ball well right now... When that happens, zones don’t have to stretch very much and we weren’t getting any offensive rebounds or second chances.”
Senior Tanner Lager and junior Raul Aguirre worked inside early, with each player making two shots under the basket to give Rochelle a 10-6 lead before Sterling’s 22-4 run sent the Hubs into a double-digit hole. With his team struggling to score, Rochelle senior Ryan Simmons stepped up down the stretch of the first half, sinking two mid-range shots and a 3-pointer for seven of his 16 points in the game. The Golden Warriors led Rochelle 40-24 at halftime.
“It’s all about our confidence and believing that we can make the right plays,” Thompson said. “Our ball fakes to get inside passes aren’t good right now. We’re just not playing very clean basketball right now and I thought we’d be better in that area with a lot of experienced guys.”
With Austin and Billings sidelined for nearly the whole third quarter, Sterling turned to junior guard John Paul Schilling, who used his sharp handles and quickness off the dribble to score 18 of his team-leading 25 points in the second half. Meanwhile, Rochelle turned to their 6-foot-5 forward Aguirre with Austin off the floor, and the junior responded with four baskets under the rim and a 4-for-4 stretch from the free-throw line to score 12 of his 16 points in the game.
The Hubs brought Sterling within four points during the fourth quarter, but costly turnovers and cold shooting from 3-point range allowed the Golden Warriors to preserve their lead. Lager led Rochelle with 18 points in the loss, with senior Forrest Gerber adding six third-quarter points.
“We tried to pack them in and not let them in the lane,” Thompson said. “[Lucas] Austin went off on us and they went on a huge run throughout the first and second quarters. I thought we sold out during the second half and went after them as hard as we could. But when we’re in situations where we’re having to come back, we have to play perfect basketball down the stretch, and we had too many situations where we missed box-outs or turned the ball over.”