DEERFIELD — A couple of momentum-shifting runs decided Saturday night’s WIAA Division 5 boys basketball regional final in Deerfield.
The decisive one didn’t go in Rio’s favor, as top-seeded Deerfield went on an 11-0 second-half run to take control and hand the fifth-seeded Vikings a 65-55 season-ending loss.
“Season ends but team doesn’t,” Rio head coach Tim Struck said after the Vikings’ second straight regional final loss. “The memories are still there no matter what.”
Rio (18-6) was rolling going into halftime, closing the first half on an 8-0 run to take a 37-29 lead. Nathan Rippl provided the spark, as the junior provided immediate energy off the bench, scoring inside to stop an 8-0 Deerfield run and pull Rio within 21-15 with 7 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the half.
The teams traded baskets until Brandon Rowe converted a three-point play to cut Rio’s deficit to 25-23 with 4:15 to go. Rowe got inside for another layup, then Rippl spun and scored to tie the game at 27 with 2:42 to play. Another Rippl layup gave the Vikings a 29-28 lead.
Deerfield’s Noah Gjermo made a free throw to tie it at 29 before the Vikings took over the final 2 minutes of the half. Rippl made a pair of free throws, then Dillon Scott recorded a steal and hit a 3-pointer.
A couple possessions later, Ryan Lang jumped up to steal an entry pass and took it coast to coast for a three-point play that gave the Vikings a 37-29 lead with 46.7 seconds remaining. That score held, as the Vikings sent the host Demons (21-4) into the locker room looking to regroup.
They were able to do so. Nate Siewert got it started on the offensive end of the floor. The Deerfield senior missed a 3-pointer, but the Demons grabbed the offensive rebound and found Siewert spotting up in the corner and he nailed this trey to bring Deerfield within 43-36 with 14:43 left.
“The gym was plenty loud and I told the team before the game that there would be a lot of momentum swings, so we were ready for it,” Struck said. “Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down.”
Wills Manning one-upped Siewert, hitting a 3-pointer and drawing a foul with 11:47 remaining. Manning hit the free throw to cut the deficit to 43-42. Lang answered with a three-point play of his own, but it was a brief response.
Gjermo made a mid-range jumper and began to jump the passing lanes. The senior stole the ball on three consecutive possessions and the Demons got out and ran. All three steals led to points, including a Tyler Haak layup that gave Deerfield a 53-46 lead and forced a Rio timeout with 8:27 remaining.
“They were aggressive,” Struck said of the Demons. “They got their hands on a lot of passes and they were shooting at a high clip.”
The Vikings were within 56-51 after Rowe made a pair of free throws with 6:19 left, but that was as close as Rio would get. Manning hit a 3-pointer to give the Demons a 59-51 lead, then Gjermo notched another steal and the Demons took a double-digit lead with under 5 minutes to play. Deerfield took care of the ball down the stretch and held on to win the regional title.
Rowe paced Rio with 14 points, while Lang added 11 points and Rippl added 10 points.
Gjermo finished with a game-high 23 points and Siewert added 17 points as the duo’s length and athleticism gave Rio trouble on both ends of the floor.
“We knew who their studs were and what they could do, and they performed tonight,” Struck said. “Obviously we were expecting to come out on top, but we knew what they were going to do and they executed well.”
The Demons will take on third-seeded Barneveld (17-8) in Thursday’s sectional semifinal in Evansville. The Eagles are coming off a 70-44 win over second-seeded Pecatonica on Saturday.
As for the Vikings, the loss ends the careers of Rio’s seven-player senior class of Scott, Lang, Jeffrey Corning, Grant Moll, Trajan Prochnow, Bryce Staveness and Zach Lemke. The group led the Vikings to a 37-12 record the last two seasons after Rio had gone 20-27 the previous two years. The 2016-17 campaign was Rio’s first winning season since the Vikings went 15-9 in 2011-12.
“They’ve kind of put this program on the map,” Struck said. “They’re the reason we’re at where we are and hopefully the younger kids learn from it and we can develop.
“We’re going to try to keep it at a high clip, do the best we can to keep the ball rolling. The seniors were a large part of what we did, but we’re looking to keep it going.”
DEERFIELD 65, RIO 55
Rio 37 18 — 55
Deerfield 29 36 — 65
RIO — Rippl 3 4-4 10, Rowe 5 3-3 14, Scott 1 1-2 4, Staveness 4 0-0 8, Lang 4 2-2 11, Moll 2 3-4 8. Totals 19 13-15 55.
DEERFIELD — Gjermo 10 3-4 23, Pratt 2 2-2 6, Siewert 7 2-4 17, Knapp 0 2-4 2, Haak 4 1-2 10, Manning 2 1-2 7. Totals 25 11-18 65.
3-point goals — Rio 4 (Rowe 1, Scott 1, Lang 1, Moll 1), De 4 (Siewert 1, Haak 1, Manning 2). Total fouls — Rio 15, De 14.