RANDOLPH — With his season on the line, Rio senior Dillon Scott didn’t want to fall to rival Randolph for a third time.
The Vikings boys basketball team made sure that didn’t happen Friday night as Rio rode a strong first half en route to a 62-44 win over the Rockets in a Division 5 regional semifinal game at Randolph High School. The win not only avenged a pair of regular-season losses but advanced the fifth-seeded Vikings onto the regional final for a second straight year.
Rio (18-5) will face off with top-seeded Deerfield after the Demons (20-4) routed Beaver Dam Wayland 74-28.
“It feels good, but the best feeling is seeing how excited these kids are to have it,” Rio coach Tim Struck said. “I have a lot of games left to coach in my life, but these kids had only one shot at this game. I’m glad they won it and they earned it.”
During their losses to the Rockets (16-8) during the regular season, the Vikings struggled early, trailing at halftime in both games by at least eight. Rio flipped that script as it used a 17-4 run over the final seven minutes of the opening half to take a 28-14 lead into the intermission.
The two teams traded punches throughout the opening minutes before Rio took an 11-7 lead on a layup by junior Nathan Rippl with 9:30 left in the half. A 3-point play by Randolph senior Austin Syvertson trimmed the deficit to 11-10 with seven minutes left but the Rockets went cold from there.
A 3-pointer by junior Brandon Rowe started an 8-0 spurt for the Vikings, capped off by a 3-point play by senior Grant Moll, who scored a team-high 14 points, which gave Rio a 19-10 lead with 4:18 remaining. Randolph junior Sawyer Westra stopped the bleeding briefly by hitting one of two free throws to make it 19-11 with 2:42 to go, but Rio responded.
The Vikings rattled off nine more points, rounded out by a pair of Moll free throws, before a 3-pointer by Randolph junior Jake Roberts, who scored a game-high 15 points, made it 28-14 at the break.
“We always know we need to come out strong in the first half because we don’t always come out strong in the second half,” senior Bryce Staveness said.
The Vikings did just that as Rio built a 33-16 lead on a Scott layup with 14 minutes left to play. Facing their largest deficit, the Rockets offense started to heat up. Randolph switched into a full court press and countered Rio’s strong start with an 11-2 run of its own, capped off by a Roberts 3-pointer from the corner, to make it 35-27 with 11:45 to go.
That was the closest Randolph got however, as the Rockets began to sputter from there. Rio answered the Randolph push with 10-3 run, finished off with a Moll layup to lead 45-30 with 7:45 to play.
GALLERY: Rio vs. Randolph boys basketball, Division 5 regional semifinal
Photos of the Rio and Randolph boys basketball teams squaring off in a Division 5 regional semifinal game on Friday, March 2 at Randolph High School. The Vikings avenged a pair of regular-season losses to the Rockets with a 62-44 win.
“They hadn’t pressed us once so when they came out in that, we just needed to take a breather, recuperate and figure out what we need to do to get past their press,” Moll said.
“It was just staying focused and knowing exactly what we have to do in executing,” Struck said of answering the Rockets charge. “I knew it was all about that, not speeding up when we need to be and play smart.”
With a comfortable lead once again, Rio was able to fend off any sense of a comeback attempt by Randolph, putting things away from the free throw line. On the night, the Vikings shot 23 of 31 from the line while the Rockets struggled, making just 9 of 17 attempts at the charity stripe.
“It’s a lot of points we needed to keep this lead and do what we needed to,” Struck said. “These kids have earned every win they’ve gotten. They’ve worked their tails off; we belong where we’re at, they believe we can go farther.”
The Vikings will have a tough test against the Demons if they intend to go farther, but Scott knows the key is simple.
“Every game we need to play our best otherwise we’re done,” he said. “We don’t want that; we want to go to state. We want it all.”
RIO 62, RANDOLPH 44
Rio 28 34 — 62
Randolph 14 30 — 44
RIO — Moll 4 5-7 14, Scott 3 5-7 12, Staveness 3 5-6 12, B. Rowe 3 2-2 9, Prochnow 2 1-3 6, Lang 1 4-4 6, Rippl 1 1-2 3. Totals 17 23-31 62.
RANDOLPH — Roberts 6 0-0 15, Syvertson 2 3-3 8, Westra 3 2-6 8, Moldenhauer 2 0-0 5, Haffele 1 2-2 4, Alderden 1 1-2 3, Alsum 0 1-2 1, Fuller 0 0-2 0. Totals 15 9-17 44.
3-point goals — Rio 5 (Moll 1, Scott 1, Staveness 1, Rowe 1, Prochnow 1), Ran 5 (Roberts 3, Syvertson 1, Moldenhauer 1). Total fouls — Rio 15, Ran 26. Fouled out — Haffele.