Rockets handle West Central
Okawville takes another step towards Peoria, 61-44; Aubel 22-points paces host
- Okawville head coach Jon Kraus couldn't have dreamed of a better beginning for his Rockets on Wednesday night in their 1A Okawville Sectional semifinal contest.

On the other hand, Winchester West Central mentor Ryan Sichting would probably like to forget his teams' nightmare of a start.

The hosts and defending state champions hit their first five shots, including a trio of 3-point bombs, as they jumped out to a double-digit lead in route to a 61-44 victory at home over the Cougars.

Before West Central got their heads to stop spinning, the Cougars were down 17-2.

The Winchester Coop never got the deficit below nine-points the rest of the way.

The Cougars' season came to a grinding halt at 25-7.

“We knew coming in that not only were we playing the defending state champs but the year before they were runner up, so they have a lot of experience in the postseason,” said Coach Sichting. “Man, they came out and they were playing on their home floor and teams normally shoot better on their home floor. They shot the ball well early and we missed a lot of 'bunnies' early on. They hit three 3's right off the bat and we missed four 'bunnies' so if you even those out maybe we go in (to halftime) down four or five instead.”

The Rockets were led on both ends of the floor by 6-foot-4 senior Will Aubel with 22-points and some key defensive plays, including a pair of big blocked shots in the third quarter, to help keep West Central at bay.

Six-foot-one senior Lane Schilling added 12-points for Okawville while sophomore guard Lucas Frederking tossed in nine.

Six-foot-seven junior big man Jackson Heckert added eight-points and Wyatt Krohne, a 5-foot-8 senior guard, scored six.

Krohne's two 3-point bombs in the opening minutes were part of the barrage of shots that punched West Central “right in the chops” as the Rockets took immediate control.

Aubel added six of his points to the run, and Frederking hit a 3-pointer.

Schilling also scored on an inbounds play and Aubel's two free throws, along with a rebound bucket, made it a 15-point lead with 3:46 left in the opening quarter.

“The start was critical for us. That was something we harped on the last few days in practice and right before we went out there tonight. We've got to get off to a good start and make them (West Central) call the first timeout,” said Coach Kraus. “I couldn't dream of a better start. We hit 3's and got easy buckets. We got some stops and we threw some things at them defensively (Triangle-And-Two, zone) and it took them time to warm up to it. They missed some easy shots early and if they make them maybe it changes the game in some aspects.”

The Cougars were paced by 12-points each from 6-foot-3 senior Aaron Brown and 6-foot-5 junior forward Cole Howard.

Junior guard Gabe Cox added 11 for West Central.

Six-foot-two freshman guard Ryan Moore added six-points, as he, Howard and Cox each hit shots in the first quarter.

But West Central was just 3-of-10 in the first eight minutes while Okawville hit 6-of-10 to get the early lead.

After Cox opened the second quarter with a score, Okawville went on an 11-3 run with Heckert getting going inside, scoring while being fouled twice.

Heckert converted the second conventional three-point play and then Frederking converted a fast break.

Brown canned a 3-pointer for the Cougars but Okawville added free throws by Schilling and an inside bucket by 6-foot-4 sophomore reserve Mason Meyer.

Meyer's score in the paint, after making a shot fake that fooled two Cougar defenders, found the mark for a 28-11 lead.

Although Howard answered with a bucket with just under a minute left in the half, West Central was in trouble trailing by 15-points at the break.

Winchester played much better in the second half for Coach Sichting but Okawville continued to keep them at a distance.

Aubel poured in a pair of shots in the third quarter and Schilling added points in the paint, with one of them coming on a fast break, as the Rockets beat the West Central press.

Brown provided a spark for the Cougars with a couple of three-point plays, with the second one getting his team to within 41-28 heading to the fourth quarter.

Consecutive buckets to open the final eight minutes gave the West Central fans, who made the two and a half hour trip south, a bit of hope.

Scores by Cox and Moore cut the Okawville lead to just 41-32 with 5:27 left.

The foul problems that West Central had accumulated in the third quarter was now an albatross.

The Rockets began spreading the floor with the Cougars now fouling.

After some early missed foul shots, Okawville got on a roll.

Frederking and Aubel, with the senior leading the way with six straight, combined to nail down eight-consecutive from the free throw line.

During this parade, Aubel converted a three-point play as well with 3:09 left.

In fact, during the final quarter, the Rockets were 14-of-19 from the stripe (Aubel with 8-of-9) and hit all three of their field goal attempts as the lead reached its maximum at 61-41.

“We didn't let them get on that 8 or 9-0 run. We never let them get quite close enough where they could really put pressure on us,” said Coach Kraus. “And then we were shooting two free throws every time they fouled us which helped us. One thing that we have is some gutsy kids. We have had, in the last couple of seasons, some success and this group is determined not to let those groups down.”

A late 3-pointer from senior reserve West Central's Connor Schroeder made the final spread 17.

“He (Aubel) has been our guy lately. He hit the big shot against Marissa and tonight he made some big plays he knows he is supposed to. He's a senior and he has the most experience with him, Lane (Schilling) and Wyatt (Krohne) have played in a ton of these games,” said Coach Kraus. “It is always a good feeling as a coach when you have you have three seniors with experience.”

Okawville was “sharp as a tack” offensively, canning 18-of-29 shots overall (62 percent) while 3-of-7 from outside (42.8 percent).

Defensively, the Rockets were even better than that.

West Central managed just 17-of-52 overall (32.6 percent) and 4-of-17 (23.5 percent) from beyond the arc.

The Rockets held a slight 25-23 rebounding advantage while the two teams each committed just seven turnovers apiece.

“It (the start) makes it tough. We maybe have a few nerves early and miss a few and them getting hot like they did, it makes it tough to recover like that,” said Coach Sichting. “Especially how good of a defensive team Okawville it is hard to recover from. I have a lot of respect for Okawville, their program and what they do here.”

West Central will have four starters returning next season for Coach Sichting and he is already looking forward to 2019-20.

“I'm going to miss Aaron Brown to death. He is one heck of a defender, player and senior. But we have four of our five starters back and this is a team that could make another run next year,” said Coach Sichting.

The Rockets will face a familiar foe in the sectional title game on Friday night.

State-ranked and ABV 1A Jacksonville Supersectional area number-one Madison and Okawville will hook up for the second time this season.

The Trojans won the “weather delayed” Okawville Invitational Tournament championship game February 13, 46-36.

Madison rallied from a 27-18 halftime deficit with a 28-11 second half for the victory.

“We just want to keep playing. We play who we play, it is what it is. We will show up Friday ready and it should be a good game and a good atmosphere,” said Coach Kraus.

Sectional Semifinals
Winchester West Central
Okawville (55) – Harre 1 0 0-0 2, Frederking 1 1 4-6 9, Aubel 6 0 10-11 22, Krohne 0 2 0-0 6, Meyer 1 0 0-0 2,Schilling 4 0 4-4 12, Heckert 2 0 4-9 8.
2FG-15, 3FG-3, FT-22-30, PF-10.

Winchester West Central (44)
– Cox 3 1 2-3 11, Schroeder 0 1 0-0 3, Moore 3 0 0-3 6, Little 0 0 0-0 0, Brown 2 2 2-4 12, Evans 5 0 2-2 12, Galloway 0 0 0-0 0.
2FG-13, 3FG-4, FT-6-12, PF-24.

Fouled Out
– Howard, Evans - Winchester West Central.
Technical Fouls
– None.