GALESBURG — The Alleman boys' basketball team delivered the first punch, and it took two quarters for Geneseo to get up off the mat.
It was too little too late as Alleman avenged an early season loss by delivering the Leafs a season-ending loss, 50-41, in the Class 3A Galesburg Regional quarterfinal at John Thiel Gymnasium.
Adam Hoogerwerf was the prize fighter who delivered the blow, scoring 14 of his game-high 26 in the opening frame. He also nabbed three of his game-high five steals in the quarter as Geneseo turned the ball over nine times.
Hoogerwerf and Kevin O'Keeffe scored 42 of the team's 50 points, making all but one of the Pioneers' field goals and 5-of-8 free throws in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
Geneseo won the second half but didn't take advantage when the game hung in the balance. During one series, Jordan Starkey scored, was fouled but missed the free throw. Fortunately for the Leafs, Grant Burress pulled down the board, got his basket and was fouled. He also missed the free throw, but Ethan Reschke pulled down the rebound. Starkey was fouled, but missed the front end of a 1-and-1 that could have cut the game to four.
The Leafs went the next four minutes without scoring a basket as the Pioneers extended the lead back to double-digits.
Starkey led the Leafs (10-16) with nine points in his final game in green, and fellow senior Ethan Reschke played his best game of the year, scoring eight and pulling down a team-high seven rebounds. Senior center Austin Frank also scored eight while pulling down five boards.
"Playing in the Western Big 6, no matter how bad our record was we played physical and were ready for the postseason," Hoogerwerf said. "We came out strong, and getting to the basket worked. Unless someone drops down on me I'm going to go to the rim. I had a 6-foot-4 brother so I'm used to going around people."
Hoogerwerf had some circus baskets that brought the Pioneer crowd to their feet, but it was his ball pressure that was more impressive, keeping Starkey (averaging more than 16 points per game) to just three shot attempts in the first half.
"We needed to come out with that intensity and establish the tempo," Alleman coach Pat Rangel said. "It's tough to come out in the first regional game, but our intensity made up for that."
While the Leafs won the rebound battle, 25-13, they committed 23 turnovers to just 12 for the Pioneers (8-18).
"The whole first half we were on our heels," Geneseo coach Brad Storm said. "In the second half we competed with intensity, but it was too little, too late.
"We had a deer-in-the-headlights look to us, and I'm not sure why. We told them when you hit the postseason, the game becomes more physical."
The Leafs season comes to an end with four more wins than a season ago but prematurely for the seniors.
"We've come a long way," said Starkey of his class that won just one game at the sophomore level. "We've just kept working and building and it's taken a lot of time, and hopefully it's just the start for the rest of the guys."
The Pioneers will have to put this win behind them quickly as they face the top-seeded Raiders of Quincy Notre Dame (20-7). Playing the underdog is something the Pioneers wear as a badge of honor, and after their upset of Quincy a couple weeks ago, why not QND?
"We're used to having our backs against the wall," Rangel said. "We really have no choice of being the underdog or not so why not embrace it. We have nothing to lose."