Xtra Points: Rock Valley South race provides plenty of intrigue
Clinton junior point guard Luke Risse was pretty straightforward when talking about the Rock Valley South Conference boys basketball race on Thursday night.
"I think it's ours to lose," Risse said.
On its own, the statement seemed a bit odd, even though the Cougars had just beaten Parkview in two overtimes. The victory improved Clinton's league record to just 2-4, and it moved into a two-way tie for third place in the six-team conference.
But the win moved the Cougars within a game of Parkview and two back of Beloit Turner, which leads the way as we near the halfway point of the conference slate.
And you can't blame Clinton for feeling more optimistic as 2014 began with the return of senior forward Eric DeLong, a 6-foot-4 post presence and a key leader for a group that rosters just three seniors. DeLong didn't have a huge impact Thursday due to foul trouble, but his coach and teammates talked about his return glowingly.
"That's leadership all the way," Risse said. "He had a frustrating night ... and he was a little rusty, but he showed great leadership and composure. Even on the bench he was supporting us the whole time."
"He just brings so much energy for us, and mental toughness. He had two plays in the first half that nobody probably even noticed, but I did. He dove out of bounds and got deflections and got the ball back in, and one was to Marc Eliszewski and he hit a layup. Those are the things that we don't have anybody on the team that's been doing that all year long. ... He just makes us a complete different-looking basketball team."
It should be a nice mix with Risse, an up-and-coming junior Zach Kaminski who led Thursday with 26 points, and Derek Severson, Clinton's football quarterback who had a few crucial plays against Parkview that wouldn't show up in the box score, either.
But the Cougars still have catching up to do.
Admittedly, I have yet to see Beloit Turner, but hopefully that'll change soon. The Trojans have yet to lose a game against a Rock South opponent, and the only one they haven't played is Big Foot. But Turner got Parkview and Clinton at home the first time around, so those road rematches will be intriguing.
And coach Boyce Hodge is doing his best to instill a winning basketball mentality in Orfordville, where Parkview is the only South team with an RVC crossover win this season.
I've seen the Vikings twice now and like their inside-outside ability. Six-foot-6 post Garrett Reinhardt is as big--literally, at least in the height department--a weapon as the league has, Christian Hobson is a gritty guard and Parkview has some shooting ability. The key for Parkview will almost certainly be consistency throughout.
"Brodhead beat Clinton, Palmyra's well-coached and plays a style that's hard to defend and execute against, and Turner is tough," Hodge said, breaking down the race a bit more. "It should be fairly fun. Clinton played really hard."
Some dates to circle if you're hoping to keep a closer eye on this race: Parkview hosts Turner on Jan. 23; Clinton hosts Turner on Feb. 6; and the rematch between Parkview and Clinton could be a really interesting season finale on Feb. 20.