ROCHELLE — With the Rochelle Hub varsity basketball team locked into a highly contested conference battle against the Ottawa Pirates on Wednesday, senior guard Ryan Simmons elevated his game to another level when his teammates needed him the most.
Entering the fourth quarter with nine points and the Hubs trailing 45-44, Simmons took command of the Rochelle offense, calling for the basketball and drawing contact on multiple aggressive drives to the rim. The 6-foot-6 senior also buried a deep 3-pointer from the right elbow, ultimately scoring 11 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Hubs over the Pirates 63-56. Rochelle (9-8, 5-1 Interstate 8) has now won four straight games.
“I knew my team needed me and I knew we were down a little,” Simmons said. “When I made my first layup in the fourth quarter, I told myself that I could do this. I kept driving to the basket and when they fouled me, I made both of my free throws. Everything fell into place for me.”
Senior Tanner Lager opened the game with a 3-pointer from the corner for the Hubs, who led Ottawa 16-10 after the first quarter. Rochelle also received a boost from senior Zach Sanford, who recently returned to the rotation from an ACL injury. The 6-foot-5 forward grabbed multiple offensive rebounds in the first quarter, scoring four of his six points on easy putbacks. The Hubs are now 4-0 since Sanford made his season debut against the LaSalle-Peru Cavaliers.
“It means so much to all of us that Zach’s back,” Simmons said. “It really hurt to see him go down over the summer, but it’s been so great to have him back and he’s put in the work. We’re having fun right now as a team, but we have to continue working on the small things.”
Despite trailing early, Ottawa took control during the second quarter, rallying behind senior guard Luke Cushing and senior forward Braiden Miller, who combined for 31 points on Wednesday. With Miller working down low on the block and Cushing putting the Hubs in foul trouble with aggressive takes to the basket, Ottawa surged ahead 34-30 at halftime.
Looking to slow the momentum, Rochelle mixed up its defensive looks during the second half, showing more zone defense and less man-to-man defense in the third quarter. Using their length to their advantage, the Hubs were able to contain Cushing, who converted only three field goals in the second half. Miller, on the other hand, was held to just one field goal.
“Our plan coming into the game was to press as much as we could and switch things up with either the zone or our man defense at halftime,” Simmons said. “I thought we had several players step up and play really solid defense tonight, which helped us win in the end.”
After catching fire with three triples in the second quarter, senior guard Adam Kemp drilled his fourth and final 3-pointer of the evening in the third quarter, helping bring the Hubs within one point entering the fourth quarter, where Rochelle outscored Ottawa 19-11 to seal the Interstate 8 victory. Kemp finished with 12 points in the win, while Lager totaled 15 points.