Knights Lose in the first round of the Class A Kaneland Sectional to end the season
This was building up to be story book finish for the Knights who quickly became a force to be reckoned with. But a quick and talented team from Forreston high school came to Kaneland and stuck a sword in the heart of the Knights hitting a three-point bucket with only 27 seconds to secure a 60-57 victory.
The atmosphere was like a football playoff game, with the Forreston fans arriving by 4:30 in the afternoon, a full two hours before the doors opened and three hours before the game. They stood in line in the rain and cold only warmed by the idea of seeing their team advance in the sectional. By the time the doors opened they had a line that wrapped around the school sidewalk. By 6:45 Cardinal fans had completely filled their side of the gym and where overflowing to the Kaneland side.
By game time Cardinal fans outnumbered Kaneland fans by about 4-to-1. An amazing show of support considering Forreston is a town of only 1,631 people and high school of only 300. Moreover, they had a hour plus drive to Kaneland while local fans had only a 10 minute drive.
The temperature in the gym was approaching 90 degrees and there wasn't a seat to be found. People where standing in the doorways and out in the halls. Like Spring Valley Hall football game the Knight fans (some without shirts spelling out their favorite players), looked across the gym to see a sea of red and white.
At Tip-off everyone was worked up to a frenzy and the players responded in kind playing with the intensity never seen before this season at Kaneland. Both teams where a little tight and after a quick exchange of baskets it took five and a quarter minutes before they could score again. By the end of the first quarter the Knights had worked their way to a 13-8 lead with P.J. Fleck accounting for all but two of the Kaneland points.
The story within the story was Fleck against (#24) Jonathan Schneideman both all-state honorable mention senior point guards. With both teams playing man to man defense Fleck covered Schneideman, but Schneideman didn't guard Fleck at the other end, leaving that up to fellow senior teammate Mike Ross.
This strategy could very well account for the Kaneland lose as Fleck won round one outscoring Schneideman 11-0 in the first quarter and causing Schneideman to turn the ball over 4 times. Quarters two and three they played each other pretty even. However, in the fourth quarter an exhausted Fleck went 2-for-9 from the field, (getting hacked about every attempt) while Schneideman hit the winning "3" in the last 27 seconds and scored 12 points in the final quarter has he took round four, in a bout you could call a draw.
In the second and third quarters both teams keep trading baskets, as the Knights entered the fourth quarter leading 43-40. Fleck had 11 points over the two periods while Schneideman had 12. Ryan Schrader spent much of the time on the bench in foul trouble for the for the Knights but Mike Balensiefen can in and made an impact.
Balensiefen hit on 5 of 8 attempts. Three of them slick drives to the basket and two of those where critical momentum swing baskets in the third quarter. He ended the evening as the second leading scorer for the Knights and had 4 rebounds and two steals to go along with his 10 points.
The Z-man (Brian Zielke) also had a superb game as he came in to spell Ken Lippold at the center spot. He was attacking every lose ball and playing a strong defense. As a matter of fact he was playing so well, Coach Ken Neahring couldn't take him out. He had 4 rebounds - one in the third quarter that brought everyone to their feet.
By the fourth quarter the place was going nuts, just about everyone there was exhausted by the game's intensity and the heat, which had to nearly 100 degrees by then.
The limited Kaneland bench was beginning to take its toll as the fatigue factor was hitting the Knights. With just 3:15 left in the game the Knights had managed to loss their lead and trailed by their largest margin of the game, 54-48.
It was time for their final push. "I kept telling our players to believe in what we're doing here and keep their perseverance," said coach Neahring. "I told them we'll make our showing at the end... and these kids sure did."
A deuce by Eric Delaney and big "3" by Kyle Schrader (both ending the game and their Kaneland careers with 9 points), cut the Cardinal lead to 54-53 with 1:28 to play. And now it was time for the Schneideman-Fleck Show.
First it was Schneideman's turn as he got fouled by Fleck and hit one of two free throws. Fleck then got fouled himself with 43 seconds left and hit both of his free shots tying the game at 57 apiece.
But with everyone on their feet Schneideman drilled a long three with 27 seconds showing on the clock, as the fans wearing red and white erupted. 60-57.
P.J. was right on me," said Schneiderman, describing his final shot. "I guess I had all the confidence in the world."
"That was probably one of the greatest shots I've seen," said Fleck. "He hit it right in my face, right over the top of me."
Now it was Fleck's turn. A two-point attempt bounced off the rim and goes out of bounds. But it was deflected by a Cardinal player and the Knights got the ball back with seven seconds remaining.
Fleck gets the ball again, this time outside the arc. He gets a good look for a three. He releases, in the air, looks good, on the rim, and out!
The Knights ended the season 15-13 and P.J. Fleck set a new Kaneland scoring record averaging 24.5 points a game.
Meanwhile, Forreston will move on to play in the Sectional final Friday night and try to improve their record to 30-1. WOW!
KANELAND SECTIONAL SCHEDULE
Tue., Mar. 2, 7:30 p.m. game 1
Knights Beat Burlington Central to win Regionals
This is what high school basketball should be. The Burlington Central gym was packed to rafters, both teams were had fire in their eyes. And noise - well the noise was deafen. At times you couldn't even hear yourself. It was electric.
It was going to be the last game for the loser and it was between two neighboring schools only a few miles apart. It was just fantastic. And in the end the Knights were ones left standing, winning a old fashion barn burner, 63-58 ending the season for the Rockets.
The excitement of who was going to win was one thing, but the show put on by P.J. Fleck was another. Even if you may be in P.J. Fleck burn-out mode, you had to appreciate the basketball display he put on. And if you were there you knew you were watching something special. Fleck scored 38 points, but that was only part of what he did. With fellow senior starters Kyle Schrader, Eric Delaney and Kenny Lippold combining for only 7 points Fleck took the team on his back and willed them to victory.
Central started the game with a 3-pointer and ended the first quarter with 3-pointer to level the score at 17-all after one. They then started the second quarter with a three and ended the half with a three to cut the Kaneland lead to 39-35. But they had only 2 other three's all night.
Fleck meanwhile was 6-for-9 in the first quarter and 6-for-9 in the second quarter to score 25 of his teams 39 points in the first half.
By half time everyone was so worn out by the intensity of the game the intermission was badly need to catch their breath.
To start the second half the Rockets changed their defense to a box and one, with the one being Nathan Perez who shadowed Fleck wherever he went. When he got in foul trouble Nathan Roush would take over. And so it went as Rockets focused on P.J., often times playing him quite physically. And to a degree it worked, as they held him to only 2 third-quarter points on 3 shots.
With Fleck just scoring 2-points, Kaneland managed to score only 8 points in the third quarter. Mike Balensiefen and Ryan Schrader each hit a three accounting for the only other Kaneland third quarter points, as the Knights went into the final quarter leading only 47-46.
Balensiefen opened the fourth quarter with a 3 to move Kaneland up by four, a lead they never relinquished. The rest of the game the Knights never led by more than seven and the Rockets could not get any closer than four.
The 3 by Balensiefen and a critical 2-point basket by Lippold at the end where the only help the Knights could give Fleck in the final quarter as P.J. just kept making things happen as he forced his way to the hoop. He rung up 11 fourth quarter points, with nine of those coming from the line were he went 9-for-10 down the stretch.
In addition to his points, Fleck had 5 steals to tie Ryan Schrader and 5 rebounds to tie Eric Delaney for team honors. Kenny Lippold came up big with 6 blocks and Ryan Schrader had 4 assist to go along with his 6 points.
Mike Balensiefen (who advanced to the sectionals in three-point shooting contest just before the game), was the only other scoring contributor for the Knights as he drilled 4 three's in just 6 attempts. The Rockets had much better balance with four players in double figures. But they didn't have Fleck and that was the difference.
So, if you miss Michael Jordan, them you might want to catch a Kaneland basketball game. There just might be someone on the hardwood who might bring back some of those Michael Jeffery Jordan memories.
It was interesting to note that Fleck was so excited about the game he forgot to bring his shoes with him. Luckily AD Jill Holmes jumped her truck and got them for P.J. just in time for the game.
"Thank God, Mrs. Holmes was here," said Fleck. "I had penny loafers, but I wasn't going to wear those out there. Mrs. Holmes saved me." Dustin Olson lent P.J. the shoes off his feet to warm-up in until Holmes arrived.
In addition to that, while P.J. having his great game his dad sleeping. Apparently big P.J. had slipped off to sleep and missed all but the final quarter of his son's spectacular game!
The Knights (15-12) will next play Tuesday night at Kaneland in the first round of the sectionals.
Knights win first game of the Regionals
The Kaneland Knights are beginning to put it all together just at the right time as they cruised by Hinckley-Big Rock in the opening semifianl game of the Burlington Central Class A regional, 65-43.
The Knights speed and quickness was really no match for the younger Royals, as the Knights found all the lost balls, and hustled on both ends of the court.
P.J. Fleck who scored 31 points on the evening, got eleven of those in the first quarter to help the Knights to a 17-12 first quarter lead. In the second quarter Eric Delaney scored 8 of his 12 points as the Knights went on a 10-0 scoring run to extend their lead 27-12, and never looked back. As a matter of fact it took the Royals five minutes before they scored their first point of the quarter.
The Knights who out scored the Royals in every quarter led by as many as 24 points in the second half. Even the Royals attempt at applying full court pressure did little to slow down the Knights.
Coach Ken Neahring summed up his team's play by saying, "We're pretty pleased with where we are right now. We don't worry too much about our record. We just try to come out an play well and try to improve."
Fleck added, "Everybody's just starting to come around, and it's a great time to be coming around."
In addition to Fleck's 31 points and Delaney's 12, Kenny Lippold added 8 and Mike Balensiefen 6.
P.J. Fleck is at it again. This time he is trying to set a new school scoring record in basketball to match the one he set in football. The Kaneland record for the best scoring average is held by Dan Witt at 23.4 points a game. With his 31 points, Fleck now has 547 points scored in 23 games for a 23.78 average. Unbelievable!
The Knights (14-12) will play the number 2 seed and host Burlington Central (a team Kaneland beat 66-54 a few weeks ago) on Friday at 7:30 for the regional title.The Rockets beat St. Edward 65-58 in the other semifinal game.
Knights get the number one seed for the Regionals
This year's Class A regional will be held at Burlington Central where the Knights have earned the number one seed, despite a 13-12 record.
Host Burlington Central got the number 2 seed while, St. Edward topped fellow Elgin private school westminster Christian for the No. 3 spot and Hickley-Big Rock, Hampshire and Elgin Academy round out the regional.
With Kaneland getting the No. 1 seed in a seven-team regional, they receive a first-round bye and will play the winner of the (No. 4) Hinkley-Big Rock and (No. 5) Westminster Christian game, in the second round, Wednesday, February 24th at 6:00.
The only teams Kaneland played during the season that are in the regional are Burlington Central, which they beat 66-54 at Central and Hampshire which they lost to when most of the team was playing for a state championship in football!
Knights finish strong by winning their last five games
The Knights started getting their act together as the regular season's curtain closed, winning nine of the their last 11 games. The Knights really came on strong at the end winning their last five games usually in convincing fashion.
Two of those win where against SPC White Conference leaders Yorkville and Westmont, two teams they had lost to earlier in the year.
Actually the Knights have lost only 4 games in their last 15 attempts. But of those four losses, outside of Marengo the Knights have redeemed themselves by beating three of the teams - Lemont, Westmont and Ridgewood on the return trip.
The Knights finished the first half of the season 4-8 (1-4).
The Knights finished the second half of the season 9-4 (8-3).
The Knights finished the first the regular season 13-12 (9-7).
Click here for the regular season game stories along with the freshmen and Sophomore results.
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