The St. Joseph-Ogden High School boys’ basketball team could win a regional title on Friday night.
Against the Spartans’ rival. On their home court, no less.
The stakes are high for SJO as they prepare to travel to Tolono to play Unity in a Class 2A regional championship game on Friday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. between the second-seeded Spartans (22-9) and the third-seeded Rockets (19-9) at the Rocket Center.
Getting to a regional championship game and in a position to win the program’s 18th regional title wasn’t always straightforward in February.
But the Spartans are here and know they’ll need to play better against Unity than they did exactly two weeks ago. Unity easily won 67-44 on Feb. 11 in Tolono in the teams only previous meeting this season.
Before the action starts again in Tolono between SJO and Unity on Friday night, here’s what has happened on the court for the Spartans in the past two-plus weeks:
Feb. 23: SJO 43, Oakwood 34
SJO relied on strong defense in the first half and another high-scoring performance from Ty Pence to knock off the Comets in a 2A regional semifinal game at the Rocket Center in Tolono.
The Spartans led 8-3 at the end of the first quarter and took a 25-14 lead into halftime before holding a 32-23 advantage after three quarters.
Pence scored 23 points to lead all scorers, while Andrew Beyers contributed nine points and six rebounds.
Coy Taylor added eight points and Logan Smith rounded out the scoring with two points to go along with six rebounds.
Feb. 18: SJO 46, Eureka 43
The final home game of the season for the Spartans featured a dramatic ending.
Pence drained a three-pointer at the buzzer to give SJO a nonconference win and end a three-game losing streak.
The Spartans led the Hornets 16-11 at the end of the first quarter, but the game was tied at 26 at halftime before Eureka led 35-32 to start the fourth quarter.
Pence accounted for nearly all of SJO’s offense and compiled a double-double, scoring 29 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Evan Ingram complemented Pence with 12 points and five rebounds, while Hayden Brazelton (three points), Taylor (two points) and Beyers (eight rebounds, four assists) also provided timely contributions.
Feb. 15: Paxton-Buckley-Loda 62, SJO 60
A valiant fourth-quarter comeback fell just short for the Spartans in a road Illini Prairie Conference loss.
PBL led 17-15 at the end of the first quarter, 30-26 at halftime and 47-39 to start the fourth quarter.
Pence dropped in a whopping 38 points and hauled in 12 rebounds for the Spartans, while Taylor joined him in double figures with 11 points. Luke Landrus (six points), Beyers (three points, seven rebounds) and Smith (two points, six assists) also chipped in.
Feb. 12: Pana 59, SJO 54
The Spartans led early, but could not quite get over the hump against the Panthers at the Riverton Shootout.
Pana led 14-9 at the end of the first quarter, 28-27 at halftime and 48-47 after three quarters.
Pence tallied 32 points for the Spartans, with Beyers recording 12 points. Taylor (seven points), Smith (two points, four rebounds, four assists) and Landrus (one point, nine rebounds) also contributed.
Feb. 11: Unity 67, SJO 44
Unity got off to a hot start and the Spartans never recovered in a road Illini Prairie loss in Tolono that snapped a four-game win streak for SJO.
The Rockets led 14-5 at the end of the first quarter, 34-22 at halftime and 48-30 to start the fourth quarter.
Pence was the only SJO player to finish in double figures with 19 points. Smith and Taylor each produced eight points, while Brock Trimble (three points), Beyers (two points), Tanner Jacob (two points) and Landrus (two points) all dented the scoring column.
Feb. 8: SJO 74, Rantoul 54
Beyers had a career night offensively and scored 24 points to spark SJO to a home win in Illini Prairie action.
Pence (18 points) and Smith (14 points) joined Beyers in double figures as SJO raced out to a 20-6 lead after one quarter that was trimmed to a 33-24 lead by halftime. The Spartans increased their lead back to double digits, 51-39, to start the fourth quarter.
Taylor (nine points), Jacob (four points), Brazelton (3 points) and Trimble (two points) also chimed in.
Feb. 7: SJO 73, Bloomington Central Catholic 61
In perhaps their most impressive comeback of the season, SJO left Bloomington with a road Illini Prairie win.
Bloomington Central Catholic enjoyed a 25-9 lead at the end of the first quarter before SJO had whittled its deficit to 37-36 at halftime and then took a 55-50 lead into the fourth quarter.
Three Spartans finished in double figures, led by a near double-double from Pence after he compiled 31 points and nine rebounds.
Beyers was only two rebounds away from a double-double, finishing with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Trimble provided a boost with 11 points.
Brazelton and Taylor each chipped in six points, while Smith added two points and seven assists.
Photo courtesy of the News-Gazette.