MARENGO — The Rochelle Hub varsity basketball team struggled against the physical and athletic Freeport Pretzels during E.C. Nichols Holiday Classic tournament action Wednesday.
After scoring well over 70 points in each of the team’s first two tournament games, Rochelle had no room to work against Freeport, with the Pretzels pounding the boards on both ends of the floor and frustrating the Hubs with their defensive pressure. Despite trailing by only four points at halftime, Rochelle couldn’t keep pace with the Pretzels, who eventually built a double-digit lead to win 65-46. Rochelle (5-7, 2-1 Interstate 8) will conclude the tournament Thursday.
“It’s absolutely demoralizing when the other team goes in and gets that many offensive rebounds,” head coach Tim Thompson said. “We weren’t physical enough to seal them out and I don’t think we sealed out well when we tried. Freeport kept us off the offensive glass and they were skying in to rip those balls off clean. We were fumbling the ball all over the place and they were knocking the ball out of our hands all night and we couldn’t do the same to them.”
The Pretzels saw two players reach double figures on Wednesday, with guard Robert Smith scoring 15 points and guard Dedric Macon adding 12 points for the Freeport offense. The Hubs forced the Pretzels into contested shots throughout the first half, but second-chance points on offensive rebounds allowed Freeport to maintain a slight lead. Senior forward Cooper Hasz scored seven first-half points and battled on the boards for Rochelle, finishing with 11 rebounds.
“I’m so impressed with Cooper,” Thompson said. “He’s had a lot of injuries with his legs, but he was a beast in the weight room over the summer and he’s put on a lot of muscle. Cooper really anchors our press a lot of the time and he gets his hands on the ball a lot. Cooper goes in and he really fights. I can’t say enough about his performance and he’s been a great bench player.”
Freeport led 35-31 at halftime, but an 8-0 run from the Pretzels to start the third quarter quickly put the Hubs in a tough situation. Rochelle struggled to work through Freeport’s three-quarter-court press defense, which forced multiple errant passes from the Hubs that resulted in easy layups for the Pretzels, who led 49-37 entering the fourth quarter.
“We have a press breaker that works against that press, but instead of our kids running it the way we wanted them to, they started to improvise,” Thompson said. “We started running away from the ball because either our kids didn’t want the ball or they were either getting the ball stolen from them or having the ball knocked out of their hands. It was evident that our kids didn’t want to be in those situations and Freeport saw that. It became a feeding frenzy out there.”
Senior Ryan Simmons finished with 11 points to lead the Hubs in the loss, while senior Adam Kemp added nine points and senior Tanner Lager chipped in seven points.