LANARK – To continue a season that included a program-record 24 wins, Milledgeville had to go through the same long and athletic East Dubuque squad that ended its season a year ago in the 1A Stockton Regional final.
The Warriors once again prevailed Feb. 27 in a 1A Eastland Sectional semifinal, holding on for a 52-47 victory in which the Missiles showed guts and clutch shooting to nearly pull off an epic comeback.
East Dubuque (29-3) led 34-19 at halftime, prompting a straightforward message from Milledgeville coach Brad Grenoble to his team.
“I told them we were either going to get blown out or make it one heck of a game,” Grenoble said. “They made it a game, and there’s nothing to hang their heads about. The better team won tonight.”
Milledgeville (24-5) used a 10-0 run to cut it to 37-29 with 2:51 left in the third quarter. Kyle Ottens connected on a 3 and a floater, and Cade Schave split a pair of free throws, converted a layup, and drained a jumper.
“We’ve been down farther and come back before,” Schave said. “East Dubuque was better than almost anybody we’ve played all year, and they capitalized. That’s the difference.”
Lane Boyer stopped the run for the Warriors, as he found Payton Heller for a layup and drilled a 3 to make it 42-29 Warriors after three quarters.
A putback by Ottens and a layup and jumper by Schave cut the Missiles’ deficit to 42-35 with 6:23 remaining in regulation. East Dubuque’s lead dwindled to 44-40 after a 3 from Schave and a jumper from Nate Rahn.
“Give a lot of credit to Ottens and Schave,” Boyer said. “They’re two great ballplayers. They hit some tough shots just to keep them in the game. But you’ve got to respond somehow; grind out a possession, get an easy look.”
Jack Munz corralled an offensive rebound off a missed 3 from Schave, and found the 6-foot-3 senior for a 3 from the wing to cut it to 48-45 with 56.1 seconds left in regulation.
Rahn then had a putback off a missed 3 from Ottens with 15.1 seconds to go to make it 50-47 East Dubuque, but the Warriors hit 5 of 8 free throws down the stretch to preserve the win.
“We kind of settled; I would have liked a few more stops after first shots, but those are hustle plays,” East Dubuque coach Eric Miller said. “We did enough to execute and make sure they didn’t get a shot to tie it. Survive and advance, that’s all we’re worried about.”
A Schave jumper and Rahn 3 gave Milledgeville a 7-6 edge halfway through the first quarter before the Warriors went on an 8-3 run to close the opening 8 minutes of action. Boyer sank a 30-footer at the buzzer to put East Dubuque up 14-10 after one.
“You can’t sit here and say experience didn’t help. We had juniors and seniors tonight who played in regional finals as freshmen and sophomores,” Miller said. “We’re used to the big stage, but we played them last year on a big stage in Stockton.”
The Warriors’ lead reached 23-13 after a pair of buckets by Boyer. Ottens scored his first points of the game with 3:49 to go in the first half on a blow-by layup, and sank two more buckets to get the Missiles within 10 at 29-19. However, East Dubuque closed the first half strong thanks to a bucket inside from Hunter Sherman and a 3 by Heller at the halftime buzzer.
“They’re just long and athletic,” Grenoble said. “They hit some big shots. That 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter and the 3-pointer at the end of the second quarter were killers. We just didn’t move our feet well.”
East Dubuque shot 57 percent (15-for-26) in the first half, as Boyer had 12 of his game-high 22 points in the first 16 minutes. Sherman had 10 of his 13 points in the first and second quarters.
“We like to get the ball moving,” Boyer said. “You’ve got to try to expose them and take them off the dribble and attack the rim.”
The Warriors were just 4-for-12 from the floor in the second half and 9-for-19 at the free-throw line for the game. Heller chipped in nine points and a game-high 10 rebounds, while Nicholas Kluesner added seven points, two assists and three steals.
Milledgeville shot 43 percent (20-for-46) from the field, as Schave scored 14 of his team-high 16 points after intermission. Ottens finished with 13 points, four rebounds and five assists, and Rahn pitched in 11 points and eight boards for the Missiles.
“I’m going to remember all the fun times I had with my teammates, working hard and believing we could be special,” Schave said. “It’s just the start for them, and it leads into other sports.”
1A Eastland Sectional semifinal
East Dubuque 52, Milledgeville 47
Star of the game: Lane Boyer, East Dubuque, 22 points, 3 3-pointers, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
Key performers: Cade Schave, Milledgeville, 16 points, 6 rebounds; Kyle Ottens, Milledgeville, 13 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists; Nate Rahn, Milledgeville, 10 points, 8 rebounds; Hunter Sherman, East Dubuque, 13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists