The Washington boys basketball team looks to win its first sectional championship since the 2007-2008 season 7 p.m. Friday night, when the Panthers face one of the top teams in Class 3A in the Peoria Sectional final.
The No. 4 ranked Bloomington Purple Raiders (24-4) will meet Washington (24-6) in the finals after defeating Rock Falls 76-46 Wednesday night.
In the Purple Raiders win, they forced 18 turnovers, many of which transitioned into fast-break points.
Which is the exact pace Bloomington will try to play Friday night.
“Tuesday is in the rear view mirror, and we are looking forward to the challenge,” Washington coach Kevin Brown said in regards to Bloomington.
Bloomington will look to get out in the open court behind senior guard Dazon Farris and junior guard Patrick Fisher.
Washington guards Devin Whitelow and Adrian Ware will draw assignments with Farris and Fisher, proving to be a vital matchup.
The Purple Raiders can fill it up from the outside as well, with sharp-shooting senior guard Colton Sandage providing 13 points in Wednesday’s win.
But, perhaps the most important matchup of the night for Washington will be the battle of the bigs.
Bloomington’s 6-foot-6 Chris Payton brings length and athleticism to the Purple Raiders.
Payton, a sophomore standout, scored eight points in Wednesday’s win over Rock Falls.
Washington’s big man duo of JJ Guedet and Colin Dietz will share the responsibility of guarding Payton.
“They play really well off of each other; when JJ plays physical, Colin gets rebounds, and vice versa,” Brown said. “They have made big strides (this season).”
As always, Washington will depend on its defense and bench play to win Friday night.
In the sectional semifinal, Panthers junior Tairae Hersemann scored 20 points, behind five 3-pointers, while junior Kam Motteler dished out a handful of assists in the second half to push Washington to victory.
Washington has had to overcome many things this season, but the major obstacle was the slow start to the campaign.
Through 13 games, Washington held an 8-5 record, which is something that Brown hasn’t experience often in charge of the Panthers.
“Washington hasn’t lost five times before the first of the year very many times,” Brown said. “A lot of people said we had too many pieces of the puzzle that weren’t fitting together, and a part of it was because I didn’t know how good this team could be.”
But, Washington comes into Friday night’s sectional final as winners of 17 of its last 18 games.
And a major part of the recent success can be attributed to the team’s attitude.
“We had to tell them four times in the locker room to be quiet (before practice),” Brown said. “They’ve had this excitement all year long. There were a lot of people that wrote this team off, but this group of guys didn’t quit working.”
For Bloomington, the key will be to remain focused throughout the course of the game.
“(Washington) will try to grind us,” Bloomington coach Michael Mosley told GateHouse Media Illinois. “Its just going to be a matter of which team exerts its will.”