At first glance, it would appear the Monmouth-Roseville boys' basketball team is set up for a big win tonight and a spot in Friday's Class 2A Farmington Sectional championship game.|
Tremont, the Titans' opponent in tonight's 7:30 p.m. semifinal game, comes in with an unassuming 14-14 record and its first regional championship in five years, compared to Monmouth-Roseville's 24-4 mark, West Central North co-championship and its second straight 2A regional crown.
However, Mon-Rose coach Chuck Grant has been in this business long enough to look beneath the surface. What he sees in the Turks is a team that has won five of its last six games.
"Our guys are seasoned enough to know they have to go in and play well to win," said Grant, whose club rides a 14-game winning streak down to Farmington High School. "You've got to be confident, and we feel very confident. At the same time, we still respect Tremont. They'll have a lot of energy coming into (tonight's) game."
That keeps any talk of a sectional championship game return on the back burner — not to mention talk of a rematch with either fellow WCC North co-champ Rockridge, which split two meetings with the Titans; or Minonk Fieldcrest, which bested Mon-Rose in double overtime in last year's sectional finals at Princeton.
"The kids have talked a bit about playing Rockridge again, and also a rematch with Fieldcrest, but this team has done a good job of keeping the blinders on and taking care of the business at hand," said Grant. "A lot of these guys played in the sectional finals last year, and we've played at Quincy and before big houses at Rockridge and at home, so the 'awe' factor won't be there."
Senior guards Connor Gillen and Liam Merritt and junior forward Dalton Hottle have stepped up their contributions down the stretch to augment the Titans' big two of junior point guard Martel Hunter and forward Trayvon Smith. All five starters tallied between eight and 10 points in Mon-Rose's 62-41 regional-final win over Knoxville.
Rockets equally focused: Likewise, Rockridge (23-4) isn't thinking about a possible Monmouth-Roseville rematch as it follows up its first regional title in a decade with Wednesday night's 7:30 semifinal against Fieldcrest (24-5).
Led by senior guard Brady Sanders, the Heart of Illinois Conference champion Knights won the program's first sectional crown last season and are looking to take the next step beyond that. The Rockets, meantime, hope to match what Fieldcrest did in 2012 and hoist their first sectional trophy.
"You can't ever do that, especially when you get to this stage of the tourney," said Rockridge coach Toby Whiteman. "(When) teams start looking ahead to what could possibly come about for them, that's when you're going to get tripped up. We can't do that. We've got to take care of business on Wednesday against a very good Fieldcrest team.
"We're at that stage where you're not here if you're not a good team. We're pleased with where we're at, but we'll have our hands full against Fieldcrest."