Saturday Mar 21 2009
Rocklin can't catch Eisenhower in state title game
By: Russ Edmondson The Placer Herald
Thunder’s Lane collects 27 points, 19 rebounds, 10 blocks in final high-school game
Rocklin High coach Steve Taylor didn’t want to leave Arco Arena late Friday night. The game had been over for about 45 minutes but he was in no hurry to go anywhere. No rush to put a close to a season that he will never forget. His players and Thunder basketball fans will certainly never forget the memorable ride that was the 2008-09 season either. Taylor’s squad, which finished the season 32-3, lost to Eisenhower of Rialto 73-61 Friday night in the Division II, state championship game at Arco Arena. Taylor stopped each of his 20 players as they exited the locker room for the final time. He gave each one a huge hug with a personal message attached. The message was different for each one of his guys. “I don’t want to walk out (of Arco Arena),” said Taylor, shortly after the last of the players had walked by. “I don’t want to leave because I don’t want it to be over.” Several minutes later, Pat Stover, the senior power forward and three-year varsity player, came back. Tears ran down his face as the two hugged and talked about how much each meant to the other. Neither Taylor nor Stover wanted to let go of what was the most successful season in school history. “We had 20 kids that sacrificed all year in order for us to be successful,” said Taylor, who started the Thunder basketball program in 1994. “They had a single focus and it was never about any individuals. It was always about the team’s success. “The saddest part about this game is, win or lose, we don’t get to be with these kids anymore.” One of those kids, 6-foot-10 senior center Brendan Lane, piled up outrageous numbers in his final game for the Thunder. Lane, headed for UCLA next year, finished with 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in about 31 minutes. He had 20 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks in the second half – when his team absolutely needed its star to shine the brightest. And it wasn’t enough. “It’s tough,” said Lane, who played on the varsity team for four seasons. “Our team played so tough all year and it’s hard to go out like this . . . It was such a great year and we had such high expectations. We just didn’t play our best game (tonight).” Taylor said, “(Lane) played his heart out and that’s all you can ask for.” Rocklin led 18-13 after the first quarter but trailed 31-27 by halftime. Eisenhower (32-3) led 53-40 entering the fourth quarter and the closest Rocklin came in the fourth was eight points with about 3:30 to go. Eisenhower also beat Rocklin earlier this season, 77-66, during the MaxPreps Holiday Classic in San Diego on Dec. 27. Rocklin played 22 games between that loss and the loss on Friday night to the same team. The Thunder won every single one of those games. Rocklin made just 21-of-65 shots, and was 4-for-20 from 3-point range. Thunder senior guard Anthony Romero hit 5-of-11 from the field and finished with 17 points in 23 minutes. No other Rocklin player, other than Lane, scored more than six points. “We shot 56 percent for the year (on 2-pointers) and (17-45, 37.7 percent) tonight. We missed shots around the rim that we normally make,” Taylor said. “I thought our defense did a good job. We held them to 31 points (in the first half) and our goal was to keep them in the 60s. And (for us) to score in the 70s.” Eisenhower senior point guard Andrew Bock, who will play on scholarship at Creighton next year, led the Eagles with 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Rocklin played a box-and-one defense on him in the first half and Bock scored just three points. His teammates were getting some open looks, though, so Rocklin had to switch up the defense a little bit in the second half. “They figured out that we had other guys that could do some things – when you put two on one, you give something up,” Eisenhower coach Steve Johnson said. Three of those other guys were Bryan Bock, Alex Varner and Nicholas Carter (each scored 11 points) – the trio combined to hit 8-of-19 shots from 3-point land. “I think it came down to shooting and making shots. My hats off to them – they made the shots they needed to,” Taylor said. “They are a scrappy, tough team but I didn’t think our guys backed down at all.” Rocklin’s fans filled a large chunk of the lower deck of Arco Arena. Over 10,000 fans bought tickets for Friday’s five state championship games, many of them on hand for the Rocklin-Eisenhower game (last game of the day). “It was great – the support. The community came together,” Thunder junior point guard Jackson Cummings said. “(Eisenhower) is really physical. They got every loose ball and it seemed like they out-hustled us . . . I don’t feel like they are the better team – they played better tonight.” Eisenhower’s longtime coach basically agreed. “We play them 10 times and we probably go 5-5,” Johnson said. Stover was frustrated after the game but didn’t forget that the Thunder had just played for a state title. “They are a lot more physical than us and a lot tougher than us,” he said. “(But) win or lose – this is the game we wanted to play in.” Thunder big-man Mads Frandsen, 6-8, came to Rocklin from Denmark for his senior year. He kept his composure while answering questions about the game - until the topic changed to Lane. “I’m getting all emotional now,” Frandsen said. “I love him and he’s been my best friend since the second I got here. I’ll watch him on TV next year (at UCLA) and it’s been a blessing playing with him.” Frandsen finished with four points and five rebounds in about 15 minutes of playing time. Taylor, who was a starter on a Roseville High team that won a Northern California championship in 1980 (there was no state championship at that time), was thrilled with all the Rocklin fans that showed up. “It was really exciting to see,” Taylor said. “We appreciate all the support from the Rocklin community and it’s exciting. It’s about basketball but it’s also about our kids being likeable people.” The fired-up Rocklin fans hadn’t seen the Thunder fall behind very many opponents this season. And even when they had seen their Rocklin squad engaged in a close game, there was almost always that 10-point Thunder run or a 20-5 spurt to get things going in the right direction. That Rocklin run never came on Friday night. It was the Eisenhower fans celebrating by the time the final horn echoed throughout Arco Arena. “When you get here you want things to end differently,” said Taylor, before doing what he had been dreading all night. Walking out the exit and into the parking lot.