STERLING — The Hubs did everything they could to slow down Geneseo standout Isaiah Rivera during the IHSA 3A Sterling Regional Championship on Friday. A third-quarter surge was all the Maple Leaf senior and Colorado State commit needed to start his engine, however, and his spark was the deciding factor in Rochelle’s 61-54 loss to Geneseo.
Rivera netted only two field goals in the first half, with three of his eight first-half points coming on free-throw attempts. Trailing 35-33 at halftime, the Hubs looked to take the lead, but cold shooting to open the third quarter led to multiple rebounds and full-court drives to the rim for the 6-foot-5-inch forward Rivera, who scored 10 of his 22 points in that quarter.
“We knew we could only contain him for so long,” head coach Tim Thompson said. “We said that our defense had to be predicated on our offense, and that if we could play fast and make baskets, they can’t get the ball out to him and we can set our defense. In that third quarter, when we started missing shots, they got him the ball, and that’s where he’s unstoppable.”
Rather than Rivera starting strong for Geneseo, it was Maple Leaf freshman Bristol Lewis who stepped up early, scoring six points in the first quarter to help his team carry an 18-15 lead into the second quarter. Rochelle hung tough throughout the first half, with senior Austin Brown sinking three of his team-high eight 3-pointers in the second quarter to keep it a one-possession game. Brown led all Hubs with a season-high 28 points on Friday.
“We knew Lewis was going to be an issue,” Thompson said. “We saw him shoot the ball well in the 3-point contest and he shot the ball well when we watched him on film. We concentrated so much on keeping the lane packed for Rivera that he’s naturally going to kick the ball out. We closed out and challenged shots well... The kids executed our plan the very best they could.”
Rivera’s scoring streak in the third quarter put Geneseo ahead by as many as 15 points before Rochelle slowly battled its way back in the game. A 3-pointer from Brown closed the third quarter out, with the Maple Leafs leading 52-40. Brown continued to fire in the fourth quarter, adding three more triples and helping Rochelle bring Geneseo within five points, 59-54, with roughly one minute to play in regulation.
“I can’t say enough about Austin Brown,” Thompson said. “He wears his heart on his sleeve, and I had no doubt that Austin was going to play well tonight. The bigger the game, the better Austin’s going to play. He’s just that kind of kid, and I was really proud to see him play so well tonight. He fought through a groin injury and he was awesome.”
Geneseo missed the front end of two 1-and-1 free-throw opportunities in the last minute, and the Maple Leafs gave Rochelle a third chance when Kyle Traphagen drew the front of the iron. But Traphagen outrebounded four Hubs for the ball before sending it out to Lewis, who made two free throws with about 10 seconds to play. Senior Landan Martin finished with 10 points for the Hubs, with Garrett Burdin and Seth Gould combining for 13 points.
“It’s always so hard because when we play athletics, there’s always a finality to it,” Thompson said. “It’s hard to see the kids crushed, but our message was totally positive after the game. I’ve been a part of the Rochelle basketball program for 21 years, and we had a season where we started 19-0, but the second half of this season is about as good of basketball as I’ve seen at Rochelle, especially considering where the boys came from being 4-9 to start the season.”