TERRE HAUTE —
For the first time since 2009, a new school will hang up a Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic championship banner in their gym.
Rockville punched its ticket into Monday’s championship game with a 49-32 victory over Sullivan in the evening semifinal at Terre Haute South.
The unbeaten Rox (10-0) will play Robinson – the Maroons defeated Northview 56-45 earlier Saturday – at 6:30 p.m. on Monday. Neither school has ever played in the championship game. Robinson is making its maiden Pizza Hut Classic voyage.
Not so for the Class A No. 1 and 2012 state runner-up Rox. Rockville has taken good teams to the Pizza Hut Classic before only to fall short of the title game. They will get their shot this time.
“Every year we’re the team that could, but never does. This year we’re hoping to finally break through and get one. We have a tough team to beat in Robinson,” Rockville forward Lane Mahurin said.
Rockville coach Dave Mahurin gave all of the credit to his players.
“I’m proud of the kids. We’ve been trying for a long time and we’ve had some great teams that have come through Rockville. I’m proud of the product we’ve put on the floor. This is kind of the culmination of that. The kids deserve to be here,” he said.
Lane Mahurin led Rockville with 16 points, half scored at the free throw line. Gary Ulrich and Jordon McFall added 12 points. Michael Hutchcraft led the Golden Arrows with seven points.
Both teams’ defenses held sway throughout the game. Sullivan made it difficult on Rockville to get easy looks or penetration, particularly in the opening quarter. Rockville would shoot just 4 of 16 in the opening quarter.
“There was no room for error. You know if you didn’t take a good shot or if you didn’t make the right move, the other team wasn’t going to give any leeway. Their defense was tough, our defense was tough,” Lane Mahurin said.
But the Rox still led 11-5 at the end of it as its defense forced five Sullivan turnovers. An 11-0 run by Rockville bled into the start of the second quarter as Rockville took a 14-5 lead.
Sullivan fought back and cut the lead to four, but Rockville’s diminuitive guard Keiontre Wilkey gave the Rox a spark. The sophomore sparkplug hit a jumper then came out of nowhere to jump a Sullivan pass at midcourt. He beat Sullivan’s defenders to the bucket for another field goal. Rockville’s lead would reach 20-10.
But the Golden Arrows didn’t panic. A banked 3-pointer by Nathan Pirtle and another three by Hunter King shaved the Rox lead to 20-16.
For the remainder of the half, Sullivan patiently broke down Rockville’s defense with back-door cuts, only to have the Rox respond on the other end with a bucket. Rockville’s halftime lead was 27-20. The Rox shot 11 of 27 in the half.
The first half spurts by Rockville turned out to be crucial as neither team could break the other in the second half.
“We took advantage of their pressure to get some easy baskets, but then we quit attacking. We’d wait for our cutter to get in the middle, then we’d throw it behind him, but that’s part of being young,” said Sullivan coach Jeff Moore who was otherwise satisfied with Sullivan’s defensive effort and who also believes the Arrows – who have no seniors – will continue to improve.
The third quarter was a physical battle royale that ultimately ended in a stalemate. Both teams struggled to unlock the other’s defense. At the end, the margin was the same, as Rockville led 33-26.
The fourth quarter was no different and Rockville ultimately increased their gap at the line when Sullivan was forced to foul as the Rox ran a stall offense. The Rox made 12 consecutive free throws in a period spanning the third and the final period to salt the game away.
“Our last year and a half has been pretty educational for these kids. We’ve been in every situation we can be in. We trust each other. I’m pretty proud of the way we handled ourselves tonight,” Dave Mahurin said.
The free throw makes showed grace under pressure and reflects Rockville’s experience playing in big games. Or is it something else?
“We attribute it to shooting a couple of hundred everyday,” Lane Mahurin said. “My brother [R.J. Mahurin] took me at ISU one time. I had to make 10 free throws in a row, which sounds easy, but he was throwing balls by my head as I shot them. He’s helped me focus too.”
Rockville held Sullivan to just 12 second-half points.
Sullivan (7-3) will play Northview in the third-place game at 5 p.m. on Monday.