NORMAL - Opening night jitters were to be expected for a Prairie Central High School basketball team making its debut in the Class AA playoffs. On top of that, four of the five Hawks starters were seeing the first regional action of their careers so it was no surprise when nerves were evident early on in the contest.
But, by the end of the evening, No. 13 seed Prairie Central had pulled it all together to hold off a pesky Streator squad, 70-54, in the Normal Class AA Regional quarterfinals Monday night at Normal.
Prairie Central (13-14) got some good looks early in the first quarter but couldn't get the shots to fall and the Hawks found themselves down 10-6 midway through the period. Junior guard Phillip Short then revved up the Prairie Central offense by going inside to score six of his 16 points in an 11-5 run which gave the Hawks a 19-15 lead at the end of the quarter.
Streator (10-16) battled back in the second period to tie the game at 19-19 before Hawks guard Tom Harrison hit a 3-pointer at 7:01 to spark a 12-2 run and open a 31-21 lead which grew to 38-27 at halftime. Harrison scored all nine of his points in the quarter.
"We showed some young nerves and shot a little quicker than normal," said Prairie Central coach Alan Dunahee. "Phil (Short) then went at the basket which got us into our game and Tom (Harrison) came up big for us in the second quarter."
Streator, seeded No. 17, used both full court and half court pressure in the third quarter to disrupt the Prairie Central offense. Bulldog senior guard Brandon Van Duzer provided the offense for Streator by scoring 12 of his 23 team-high points in the period to cut the Prairie Central lead to 53-46 going into the final eight minutes.
The Bulldogs kept up the pressure at the start of the fourth quarter and got to within 55-51 at the 4:30 mark before Brett Crane hit a big 3-pointer to give Prairie Central a 58-51 lead. Streator would get no closer as the Hawks applied the defensive clamps, holding the Bulldogs to only three points the rest of the way.
Prairie Central then began a steady march to the free throw line, hitting 8-of-12 in the double bonus to put the game away. Crane hit all four of free throws down the stretch and finished with a team-high 22 points.
"We got rattled and didn't attack the basket when they put on the press," said Dunahee. "On the defensive side, we had to go to a 3-2 zone instead of our normal man-to-man because of #20 (Van Duzer). We had to find a way to neutralize him and it worked."
"The key to this game is that we got the big shots when we needed them," added Dunahee.
Next up for Prairie Central is a Bloomington High School team that could well be playing its best basketball of the season. The Raiders have won seven of their last eight games and bring a 20-6 record and a No. 2 seed into tonight's contest.
"Bloomington is on a roll," said Dunahee. "We're going to have to limit our mistakes and try to neutralize their athleticism. We need to shoot well, do the little things and play a near-perfect game. This is the play-offs and anything can happen."