By Randy Gregory
In a game that was in a lot of ways a carbon copy of their triumph two days earlier, Rockford beat Forest Hills Eastern 69-60 in the championship game of the Cornerstone University High School Holiday Tournament’s Gold Division on Saturday, January 5th. The triumph moves the Rams over .500 for the first time this season at 4-3. Rockford will return to action on Friday, January 11th when they host the Forest Hills Central Rangers.
As was the case against Byron Center two days earlier, the Rams jumped out to a big early lead and appeared on their way to a breather. Rockford led 12-2 five minutes into the contest and looked ready to end any mystery early as to the eventual outcome. The first quarter ended with the Rams holding a commanding 17-7 lead keyed by six points from junior center Christopher Sunday. But the rest of the half found the Hawks chipping away and eventually getting as close as 27-22. Casey Watters hit his third triple late in the half to give the Rams a 30-22 lead as the two squads headed into the locker room.
“We had a lot of different players step up today,” said Rockford coach Nick Allen. “Christopher Sunday, Casey Watters and Zach Finkbeiner gave us a lift and helped us to get off to a great start. Hopefully we can use this as a building block and grow as a team that gets points from multiple sources. When your normal scorers are a little off it is nice to have other avenues to turn to.”
Rockford again appeared ready to trounce the Hawks as they opened the third quarter with back to back triples from Watters and Chase Fairchild to make it a 36-22 Ram lead. But once more the Hawks dug deep and cut the lead to 42-36. Finkbeiner hit a free throw and a three-pointer to push the lead back to 46-36 after the third period.
The final eight minutes saw the lead range from seven to ten points for the duration as the Rams used an uncanny eye from the free throw line to maintain their edge. As a team, the Rams went 16 for 18 to fend off any last vestiges of a comeback from Forest Hills Eastern.
Five different Rams scored in double figures to key the triumph. Finkbeiner topped the list with a career high 16 points. Watters added 14 (including four three-pointers) and Fairchild, Sunday and Chad Carlson added 12, 10 and 10 respectively. Carlson had a good floor game with seven assists as well. Rockford was a solid 10 for 25 from the three point line to account for nearly half of their point total.
“It is always nice to have so many players in double figures,” said Allen. “And to make 16 of 18 free throws down the stretch also speaks volumes about our players’ abilities to focus in pressure situations. It was a strange game in that we looked ready to blow it open on several occasions, but you have to give some credit to Forest Hills Eastern for their perseverance. But we will take it and look at all of the positives that came out of today.”