WOODSTOCK – Woodstock hadn’t won a regional boys basketball title since 2000. So coach Al Baker wasn’t afraid to take a chance.
Along with his two captains, Jordan Turner and Andy Buhrow, Baker had decided to change from the Blue Streaks’ safe, comfortable 2-3 zone defense to a man-to-man defense they hadn’t played since December.
“I’ll tell you what. I didn’t sleep a wink [Thursday night],” Baker said after his team won the Class 3A Woodstock North Regional title over Woodstock North, 64-29. Woodstock will play Rockford Lutheran at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Freeport Sectional semifinals.
“The team bought into it and we had probably one of our best practices of the year [Thursday] and it transferred over.”
The opening few minutes of the Woodstock rivalry game looked as if it was being played in fast-forward.
Both defenses were pressing and attacking the ball and players were colliding as aggressive screens were being set. The Thunder struck first after almost three minutes of scoreless basketball. Nick Herscha scored on a layup from a slick pass in the lane from point guard Josh Jandron, which set the Thunder student section off.
It was short-lived, however, as Woodstock’s Jordan Turner connected on a 3-pointer and held up three fingers to the home crowd as he jogged back for defense. His 3 started a 12-0 run which had plenty of the new defense and gave the Blue Streaks (19-10) enough confidence and momentum to cruise for the big victory.
“It means a lot to us and to be able to accomplish this means so much to our school and our community,” said Jordan Turner, who scored a game-high 18 points. “It was crazy in here. We came in excited and when we came out showing a man-to-man that gave us even more energy. Then we matched our defensive showing with our offense and I think it confused them and what they wanted to do.”
Twelve players scored for the Blue Streaks, who pulled their starters with 5:04 remaining in the fourth quarter to a standing ovation from a sea of blue-and-white-clad fans.
The student section and rest of the crowd were loud all game. At one point in the third quarter, the players played through the whistle, which was drowned out by the crowd’s cheers as Blue Streaks’ Damian Stoneking recorded two blocks in a row. The 6-foot-7 center finished with eight points, seven blocks and seven rebounds.
“It means everything to us and it’s great to see the fans so happy,” Stoneking said. “I just try to do everything for my team. I don’t worry about my stats at the end of the game I just worry about getting everyone pumped up and playing our hearts out.”
The Thunder (10-19) just couldn’t get anything going, in part because of Stoneking’s disruptive ways underneath the basket and also because of a lack of energy.
“We came out and we were too tentative and very tight,” Thunder coach Steve Ryan said. “I look up at the scoreboard and see we gave up 24 points at half. That’s fine, but offensively we just didn’t execute. We were trying to do way too much with the basketball and we weren’t playing together or doing the things that we have been all year long.”
Herscha scored a team-high 10 points for the Thunder.
“I don’t think so,” Baker said when asked if he had ever seen a crowd as big as the one Friday night. “Just before the five starters went out for the tip-off, I pulled them aside and I turned around and pointed into the stands and said, ‘The last thing you think about before that ball goes up in the air, think of them and I want you to play hard for them.’ That’s just been a huge part of this season for us.”