DUPO — The Roxana Shells earned their shot at a second straight regional championship on Wednesday, beating the Red Bud Musketeers 53-41 in the Class 2A Dupo Regional semifinals.
Roxana improved to 20-10 with the win, earning a rematch with rival Marquette Catholic in the regional title tilt at 7 p.m. Friday in Dupo. The Shells met the Explorers on Feb. 12 and lost 49-43 in a tight contest at MCHS. Marquette advanced via a 94-41 shellacking of host Dupo on Tuesday.
Roxana raced out to an 18-3 lead after one quarter Wednesday and led 31-10 at the break, but watched as Red Bud (9-21) chipped away to cut it to a five-point affair early in the fourth quarter. The Shells did enough late though, and held on to advance to Friday.
“It was the three,” Roxana head coach Mark Briggs said of the Musketeers' second-half surge. They hit 7 treys in the second half. “Those are momentum (shots) and when they start snowballing it's like an avalanche. We were lucky to overcome that, but our defensive effort in the first half was the contribution we needed.”
While the defense of the Shells early was key, so was the sharp shooting of senior Trace Gentry. Gentry led all scorers on Wednesday with 22 points and 19 of those came in the first half.
The sizzling Gentry was a perfect 6 for 6 from the field, including 5 of 5 from 3-point land and 2 of 2 from the charity stripe to boot in the opening 16 minutes.
“I was on fire,” Gentry said with a chuckle. “I was hitting them all and my teammates found me.”
Briggs said Gentry does a fantastic job of creating for himself and getting open and his teammates feed off of that.
“Trace does a lot of things on his own,” Briggs said. “He moves well without the basketball and the kids know how to use him when he's in certain areas to get him open and set some screens for him. It was some pretty good team basketball.”
Red Bud head coach Vance Porter thought the early barrage by Gentry and the Shells left the Musketeers looking for answers in the first half.
“No pun intended, but we looked like we were a little shellshocked and you've got to give them credit,” Porter said. “They knew they were going to take away our inside game and that's what everybody has done, so that's not anything new to us. We just did a little too much standing and we've had halves like that this year, but not lately. When we've done that our defense has kept us in it.
“Obviously Gentry is a really good player, but you can't leave him and we lost track of him too many times in the first half.”
Roxana sprinted out to a 13-0 lead to start the game, with Gentry scoring the first 11. Griffin Ziebold nailed a trey to cut it to 13-3, but the Shells got another 3-pointer from Gentry and a bucket from Blake Vandiver to build an 18-3 lead after one.
A quick 3-pointer by Red Bud's Logan Kueker to open the second quarter was answered by a 13-2 run by Roxana to extend its lead to 31-8 with 50 seconds remaining in the half. The Shells owned a comfortable 31-10 lead entering the locker room.
Porter talked to the kids during the break and coaxed them to play with more urgency in the second half and they did.
“We tried to stress that to them and unfortunately these kids have been there before and what we try to stress is you can't give up,” Porter said. “You have to keep plugging away.”
The Musketeers upped their intensity on defense too, pressuring Roxana much better in the second half. Briggs thought the Shells trying to play a more possession oriented game in the second half led to some turnovers vs. that defense.
“When you have a big lead like that the kids understand that there's a fine line,” Briggs said. “You want to play with the same intensity you had, but you don't want to speed up the game too much and get out of control. I think we're caught on the fence with that and our kids weren't really looking to attack and just trying to pass the ball to the next spot and we didn't do a very good job.”
Red Bud came out firing, going on a 10-0 spree to start the third quarter. Frederick Grohmann scored 10 straight points for the Musketeers at one point and when the buzzer sounded on the third quarter, they had dwindled the deficit to 40-31. They scored 21 points in the third quarter after only scoring 10 in the first half.
After a pair of treys from Drew Kueker early in the fourth quarter, Red Bud shrunk Roxana's lead all the way to 42-37, but that was as close as it would get.
The Shells answered with an 8-0 spurt. Zach Golenor supplied a pair of buckets and two free throws and Gentry logged his only field goal of the second half and with 1:26 to play Roxana was back in front 50-37 and cruised to victory.
Now the Shells will prepare for a rematch with the Explorers and Briggs knows it will be a formidable test.
“We need to execute,” he said. “Coach (Steve) Medford's kids are going to execute, our kids have to execute and both teams are similar with personnel. It's just a matter of going in there and getting the job done. There are no secrets. Both teams are going to come out with lots of intensity and we've got to score more than them.”
Gentry is sure it's going to be a barnburner. He hopes fans are ready for a big showdown and a classic dogfight.
“It's going to be a big game and a really fun game to watch,” Gentry said. “I think it's going to be a really good game like last time, but it's going to be a lot closer. It's going to be one of those games, you are just going to have to sit back and watch and I think we might come out on top.”
Roxana is looking for its second straight regional crown, after beating favored Southwestern 56-53 in the 2A Southwestern Regional finals last season.
CLASS 2A DUPO REGIONAL
ROXANA 53, RED BUD 41
Red Bud 3 7 21 10 — 41
Roxana 18 13 9 13 — 53
Roxana (20-10) — Blake Vandiver 6, Trace Gentry 22, Zach Golenor 10, Zach Haas 6, Chance Foss 5, Cody McMillen 4. 2FG — 15 3FG — 5 FT — 8 PF — 9.
Red Bud (9-21) — Griffin Ziebold 13, Frederick Grohmann 10, Logan Kueker 5, Jack Richard 4, Drew Kueker 9. 2FG — 6 3FG — 9 FT — 2 PF — 14.