Any hopes the Rock Island boys' basketball team had of winning a fourth consecutive Western Big 6 Conference title were out of their hands early Friday evening.
Once the night ended, the Rocks retained their grasp.
Rocky remained in the Big 6 race with a 61-51 victory over United Township at Rock Island Fieldhouse, but the most important win was 45 miles south of the Quad-Cities. With Galesburg handing league-leading Quincy a 62-58 loss at John Thiel Gymnasium, the Rocks officially were back in the league race.
Now a conference championship rests in Rocky's hands.
"It's get-after-it time," Rocky senior Brian Richardson said after learning the Blue Devils suffered their first Big 6 loss. "We're going to go full speed. We have a chance. We don't want to shoot ourselves in the foot."
Two games out with four to play prior to their game, the Rocks (17-4, 5-2 Big 6) now are tied with Galesburg and trail Quincy by one game with three weeks remaining. Rocky hosts the Silver Streaks next Friday before hosting Quincy in the regular-season finale on Feb. 22.
Better yet, the Rocks control their title destiny. By winning out, they can clinch no worse than a share of the Big 6 crown.
"The goal is to try and win every Friday night," Rocky coach Thom Sigel said. "That (Galesburg-Quincy) score doesn't change anything. What it might do is say that Galesburg rebounded (from a 57-56 loss to Moline last Friday) and will be fired up to play. But we have to play every Friday. That's all we can control right now."
While Rocky was subdued in the locker room when it found out the Quincy-Galesburg final score, the evidence was there that one eye remained on Quincy's game. Even those in the stands were anxiously awaiting scores, cheering when it was announced Galesburg took leads into intermission and the fourth quarter.
Thirty minutes after winning their fourth consecutive game, the Rocks realized they had a chance.
"We were praying," Richardson said.
First, the Rocks had to handle their own business. Another slow start kept Rocky from taking control as the Panthers (3-19, 1-6) limited turnovers and constantly knocked down shots through the first quarter.
Midway through the second frame, Rocky used a 12-2 run to get its first double-digit lead. After that, the Rocks never let their lead dip into single digits.
"We had some key stretches where we couldn't make plays," said UT coach Marc Polite, who received 12 points from Deveric Rogers and nine from Raymond Terronez. "Rock Island had some stretches where they showed their physicality and made some plays we weren't able to make."
At times, Rocky displayed its ability to create points in transition, off turnovers and from the perimeter.
Another factor was the bench, which scored 26 points.Trae Babers was the catalyst for the reserves, finishing with a team-high 12 points and grabbing two steals.
"He's playing great," Richardson said of Babers. "He's hitting big shots for us. He keeps getting better."
Rocky, which shot 42.9 percent (18 of 42) from the field, received 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists from C.J. Carr, plus nine points from Keenan Shorter.
All that led to another win. Next up is a closing stretch that features three must-win Big 6 games, with two home contests sandwiched around a trip to Moline's Wharton Field House.
"It's going to be intense," Richardson said. "We've got to turn it on."
Today is Thursday, Dec. 5, the 339th day of 2013. There are 26 days left in the year. 1863 -- 150 years ago: A new passenger car has been placed on the Coal Valley railroad, and R.R. Cable is running the trains at present. 1888 -- 125 years ago: The Rev. G.W. Gue preached a convincing sermon on the need of a new First Methodist Church in Rock Island 1913 -- 100 years ago: Dr. W.S. Marquis preached his farewell sermon at Broadway Presbyterian Church to the combined congregations from First Methodist, First Baptist, United Presbyterian and South Park Presbyterian churches. 1938 -- 75 years ago: Rock Island's mayor is seeking to enforce the rules governing PWA projects in the city which state that local men are to be hired for the work. 1963 -- 50 years ago: The Argus Santa Claus requests that the names of needy Rock Island boys and girls through 12 years of age be registered by parents or guardians from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 11or Dec. 14. 1988 -- 25 years ago: Alcoa and its employee union have reached tentative agreement on a 43-month labor contract covering about 7,500 workers at six plants, including 1,900 employees at Alcoa's Davenport Works, company and union officials said today.