Among the messages Rock Island boys' basketball coach Thom Sigel sent to his team during his postgame address on Friday night was putting another number on the board honoring the program's Western Big 6 Conference titles.|
Once that number is installed, Sigel told the Rocks that the next one goes on the regional championship board.
The statement was met with a hush inside the locker room before the players erupted with an applause as soon as the speech ended. Another number there is the ultimate goal, but first there was the conference-winning celebration after the Rocks' 61-47 outright title-clinching win over Quincy at the Rock Island Fieldhouse.
"We're going to celebrate this one," Rocky senior guard Brian Richardson said. "But (today), that's when we're going to start focusing on postseason. We're going to enjoy this while it lasts."
Left for dead after a 48-47 overtime loss at Quincy six weeks ago that put it two games back with five to play in the league standings, Rocky (22-4, 8-2 Big 6) stormed back to win its fourth consecutive conference title and 17th overall.
The Rocks won their final five games, then watched as Quincy (16-9, 6-4) dropped its last four Big 6 games and Galesburg lost twice. Those losses helped Rocky leapfrog the two for the championship.
"Our backs were against the wall," Sigel said, "but our guys did what we needed to do."
Knowing at least a share of the title already was wrapped up before the game, the Rocks left little doubt that the Big 6 would only belong in their hands. Rocky never trailed, building a 19-5 lead after the first quarter.
The lead never dwindled into single digits again as the Rocks hit their first six 3-pointers on the night.
"If they make their first six 3s every game," Quincy coach Sean Taylor said, "they're going to be a hard out in the postseason."
As soon as the players left the fieldhouse, the focus shifted toward next week's Class 4A United Township Regional where Rocky enters as the top seed. Before all that, the Rocks enjoyed the moment.
The students rushed the court when the final buzzer sounded, celebrating a title that seemed impossible one month ago. The players lingered on the court a little longer than normal, snapping pictures and sharing laughs.
League championships are now expected at Rocky, but this one was savored.
"When we lost at Quincy, I felt no one was really going to beat that team the second time around," Richardson said. "But some teams helped us out. Now, we're going home conference champs."
The senior class leaves Rocky with four conference titles, something the program has not done since it won nine straight from 1983-91.
"That's real, real special," Rocky senior guard Jacobe Julien said. "That means a lot."
In the clincher, the Rocks displayed a team performance that epitomized their run to the championship. Richardson scored 12 points, with Trae Babers, Raahsaan Brown and Trey Sigel each adding eight. Rocky, which connected on half of its 44 shot attempts, also had 16 assists.
Up next is extending their eight-game winning streak into the postseason. As of now, the regional is all the Rocks care about.
"We made a great run to finish off the regular season," Sigel said. "When we get back onto the practice court, (a Big 6 title) doesn't matter."
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