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Saturday Sentinel: Locals ensure basketball will be played next week

Deadlines prohibit me from writing this column after Friday night's game between Coal City and Morris for the Class 3A Herscher Boys Basketball Regional championship.

The local-on-local matchup ensures our prep basketball season will extend into next week. It's also been ensured that, among MDH-area teams, only the winner will keep playing. Gardner-South Wilmington, Minooka and Seneca have all been eliminated, with the latter two making it as far as Wednesday.

I was there for Seneca's exit, which came in the form of a 45-27 loss to Newman at the 2A Byron Sectional. It was the most lopsided loss of the season for the Fighting Irish, and their first since late December by double digits. A Seneca team used to protecting leads and playing close games — the Irish won their two games at the Bureau Valley Regional by a total of four points — was put in an unfamiliar position when Newman bolted to a 17-6 first-quarter lead.

"Yeah, we're not really used to that. We're more used to getting ahead and then trying to stay ahead," Irish senior Brian Bergeson said. "But we should have never let that happen. We should have never put ourselves in that position."

One reason the Irish fell behind as much as they did was that Newman was extremely efficient offensively during the first eight minutes, and the Irish weren't. The Comets went 8-for-13 from the field and had just one turnover, whereas Seneca was 2-for-7 and turned the ball over four times.

"They came out fired up right from the start and played with a lot of energy," junior Irish reserve Alex Bott said. "We didn't have the energy to match them."

There may be an explanation for the Irish being a step slow, and for them giving big minutes to their backups even more than usual. According to coach Russell Witte, eight of Seneca's 15 players have been affected during the past several days by a bug that has swept through the team. It's certainly not the only reason for the 18-point loss, but it may give some context to things like junior Conlan Callahan, who is arguably their most consistent scorer, being shut out on the night.

"Conlan Callahan was out (Tuesday) and didn't come in (to school) until 11 o'clock today. He waited as long as he could," Witte said," and you could tell he wasn't himself.

"We needed our subs tonight. We knew coming in that we weren't 100 percent, that we would need our subs to play heavy minutes."

Sick or not, the Irish continued to miss, and miss, and miss some more. A 2-for-16 effort from three-point land can be attributed to a combination of randomness and players not feeling well. Some of the layups and great looks that the Irish couldn't get to fall were less explainable. I asked Bergeson if the Irish just had to chalk it up to being a night where nothing went their way.

"I would say so," he said. "Nothing seemed to go in our favor. I don't know. (Newman) definitely earned it, but we had trouble getting anything going at all."

Rochelle's rumored switch

When I interviewed Morris Athletic Director George Dergo for my piece this week about changes within the Interstate Eight and Northern Illinois Big 12 Conferences, I asked him if there was anything he could say on the record about the rumors that Rochelle may move from the NIB12 East, which it shares with Morris, to the West, which is losing Dixon and Streator. I wasn't able to work it into the story, so I'll share his response here.

"I've heard nothing officially on that," Dergo said. "All of the athletic directors still have to meet. There has been word that Rochelle may be switching to the other division, but it's not that big a deal either way. You've gotta remember that in most sports, you play conference crossovers with everyone, so you end up playing all just about all of these teams anyway. So that's not a huge concern for us. But to comment on that like it's happening and what it'll mean for the conference would be premature."

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