Polo had its chances against River Ridge, but it was turnovers that sent the Marcos home without a first-ever sectional win.
River Ridge advanced to Friday’s finals with a 71-60 win over Polo at the 1A East Dubuque Sectional on Tuesday.
“We prepped for their pressure, but couldn’t simulate it,” Polo coach Matt Messer said. “By the time we adjusted, it was a dogfight.”
Anytime the Marcos would get close, a costly giveaway enabled the Wildcats to stay one step ahead. Polo never held the lead once.
The Wildcats forced Polo into eight turnovers in the first quarter and six in the second.
“We got them pushing and taking shots they didn’t want,” River Ridge coach Shean Albrecht said.
It was Justin Young coming to the rescue midway through the second quarter. With River Ridge ahead 24-15 for its largest lead of the first half, the 6-foot-4 center made two quick baskets down low.
Brady Webb then hit his second 3 of the half, and Young followed up with another score from the paint, and the game was tied for the first and only time at 24-24.
“When Young started scoring, we weren’t rotating,” Albrecht said. “It became a cat-and-mouse game.”
With Young scoring at will, Albrecht switched from a 1-3-1 zone to a 2-2-1.
With River Ridge continuing to harass the guards out front, Young snuck in for another score before the break, but Polo still trailed 30-26.
Besides turnovers, the other major problem for Polo was Young drawing his fourth foul with 13 minutes left in the game. At the time, River Ridge led 37-31.
“They had no answer for JY,” Messer said. “We discussed leaving him in, but didn’t want to lose him for the rest of the game.”
With Young sitting out the rest of the third quarter, the Wildcats scored all of their points in the paint.
“If we had him the whole game, it might be a different outcome,” Messer said.
A Tucker Mumford 3-pointer gave Polo a spark in the third quarter, and Webb added two more scores on acrobatic baskets to keep the Marcos close.
Draven Wells also came up with a pair of baskets, as the Marcos were getting contributions across the board.
“We had a great team effort,” Webb said. “The difference in the game was River Ridge did a better job with the little things. Credit to them.”
Braiden Soltow made a key basket before the close of the third quarter to keep the score within 47-41. Polo pulled to within 49-45 on a pair of baskets by Soltow, but three turnovers in a row saw the Wildcats increase that lead to 55-45, with Ben Crist tacking on his 26th point of the game.
“He’s [a work] horse,” said Albrecht of the 5-11 senior guard. “It was more than scoring. It was his rebounding and defense.”
Young gave Polo some life with six straight points, and Soltow had a steal and three more points to pull within 59-54 with just under 2 minutes to play. But that was the closest the Marcos would come the rest of the way.
With a minute left and Polo down 63-56, Soltow had a 3 go in and out of the basket, and the Wildcats went 10-for-10 from the free throw line the remainder of the game.
What was also noteworthy about the miss, was that it would have given Soltow 1,000 points for his career at Polo. Young, who led Polo with 20 points, finished with 1,306, and Webb leaves the program after scoring 1,247.
The final indignation for Polo was seeing River Ridge sink 23 of 27 free throws after coming into the game as a 50-percent shooting team from the charity stripe.
“If they only make half those, maybe we win the game,” Messer said. “It wasn’t for lack of effort that we lost. That burst in the second quarter showed we were in it.”
(Forreston’s Feb. 27 game with East Dubuque will be covered in the March 8 newspaper due to press deadlines.)