Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2012, 10:58 pm

Rocks prove they belong; Leafs prove they deserve respect

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By Dan Tomlin,

Tournaments such as the State Farm Classic give a team the chance to either prove itself or be exposed as a fraud.

The undefeated Rock Island girls' basketball team proved their top 10 ranking isn't a fluke, and Geneseo showed it deserved a better fate than the 16 seed it was awarded before the tourney started.

Rock Island 55, Morton 53: Going up against Morton, one of the best programs in the state, armed with a D-I signee, it would have been easy for the Rocks to find excuses.

Instead, they stared down the Potters (11-3) and Illinois commit Sarah Livingston and advanced to play in today's semifinals.

For the 16-0 Rocks, it is the first time in school history they have advanced this far in 10 trips to Bloomington-Normal.

Leading the way was reserve Jacqueline Twing, who scored a team-high 11 points and also added three rebounds, a pair of steals and a block of Livingston. All of her contributions came at crucial times.

"Jacqueline's a winner," Rocky coach Thad Hoover said. "It's not her first rodeo, she's been in big games in volleyball and been expected to come through. She understands the game."

Twing, The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus Volleyball Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012, drained a 3 to tie it up in the second and had a pair of layups in Livingston's face in the third quarter to inch Rocky ahead.

"I just tried to keep my cool and play hard," Twing said. "I thought if I'm going in there, I'll probably either get fouled or get a layup, so I went in hard."

Twing's wing mate, Carlee Hoover, also had 11, making good on 3-of-6 from behind the arc, as Rocky only made 3-pointers in the second quarter. For both Twing and Hoover, it was their first time leading the Rocks in scoring this year.

"That's what coach tells us. One night you could score 20 points, the next night you might not score any," Twing said. "It could be someone different every night, and you have to be ready for when it's your night."

Mercedes Jackson needed a little time to get her sea legs under her, sharing the paint with the veteran Livingston. But once she did, she put on quite a show. The sophomore center ended the game with 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. She was just narrowly outdone by the future Illini who had 13 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks for the Potters.

"There's nothing special we can do to stop someone like Livingston because of our style," Hoover said. "We just sprint back and get a body on her, and if she gets it, run to the ball."

Shavonne Brewer scored six of her eight points in the decisive fourth quarter, as Rocky used a 37-26 rebounding edge to secure the win.

By winning, Rocky advances to play Richwoods in the semifinal. The Knights are the top-ranked team in the tournament having knocked off No. 1 state-ranked Montini the week before Christmas. The Rocks and Knights will tip off at Normal Community at 7:30 p.m. with the winner advancing to Saturday afternoon's championship.

"We told the girls, win or lose, you're going to be playing some really good teams," Hoover said.

Geneseo 51, Belvidere North 42: The Leafs defied the odds and the bracket, beating the eighth-seeded Belvidere North Blue Thunder. After losing by 39 points to top-seeded Richwoods in the opener, the Leafs (6-9) wanted to make sure Day 2 was different.

The 16th-seeded Leafs got to the gym 90 minutes before the game to do a walk-through before starting their pregame process.

"We started talking last night about how our seed doesn't matter and we came here to get better," Geneseo coach Scott Hardison said. "If you would've told me before the tournament that we'd have a chance to win the consolation bracket I would've been thrilled."

That's right where the Leafs find themselves, playing St. Ignatius this morning at 11 with a shot at playing in the consolation championship tonight.

Geneseo overpowered North from the tip, with Jamie DeFauw leading the way with a game-high 17 points. Anna Wise scored 13 points and Emily Ford added 10 to put the Leafs over the top.

"It was a huge win," said Hardison whose Leafs had lost four straight coming into Thursday. "The kids know that every time you win down here you're going to play better competition."

St. Ignatius beat Normal Community after losing to Morton in the opening round.