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Boys Basketball: Rich East rolls past Coal City

Rich East's Russell Wright (right) steals ball from Coal City's Brennen Shetinduring their sectional semifinal game Rich South High School

Rich East's Russell Wright (right) steals the ball from Coal City's Brennen Shetina during their sectional semifinal game at Rich South High School in Richton Park Wednesday, March 6, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 8, 2013 7:40AM



Trailing 25-14 to red-hot Coal City early in the second quarter Wednesday night, No. 5 Rich East appeared ripe for the upset in a Class 3A Rich South Sectional semifinal.

That’s when Rockets coach George Leonard had a little talk with his players.

“He told us if we don’t start playing hard, this is going to be our last game of the season,” Rich East guard Brandon Cole said.

From that point through the third quarter, Rich East outscored Coal City 49-9, building a 63-34 lead and cruising to a 75-47 win to advance to Friday’s sectional final. The Rockets (20-6) will play the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between Providence and Hillcrest.

“I don’t think our guys were ready to play,” Leonard said of his team’s slow start. “We didn’t pressure the ball as well as we could the first eight or 10 minutes of the game. Once I got it through their heads we had to play better to win, they went out played the way we’re capable of.”

The key to the turnaround was Rich East turning up the pressure on defense, which led to numerous easy baskets in transition, as well as displaying an abundance of depth on its roster.

Coal City (19-13) relied exclusively on six players who severely wore down midway through the third quarter.

Leonard went nine deep in the first-half alone, assuring that his players remained fresh.

“Using six guys against our style is tough,” Leonard said. “You’re going to get wore down.”

Four different Rockets reached double figures in scoring. Ron Lawton led the way with 18 points, followed by Don Henderson and Cole with 15 apiece and Nick Horne with 10.

Rich East converted 31-of-65 field goals, compared with a 19-of-39 effort by Coal City, which coughed the ball up 21 times.

“We’re a running team,” Lawton said. “We want to hit the boards, get the rebound and look for the open man. That leads to easy buckets.”

Brennen Shetina had the hot hand for the Coalers early, nailing two three-pointers on his way to a 10-point first half.

The Rockets used a 21-4 run to end the second quarter, with five different players contributing in the scoring column, and led 35-29 at the break.

Lawton and his teammates are well aware they can’t afford another slow start Friday. Providence and Hillcrest won’t be overwhelmed by Rich East’s depth and quickness.

“Both teams are really good,” Lawton said. “We have to execute in practice (Thursday) and focus on the day of the game.

“We have to play the way we’re supposed to play.”



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