Burlington Central clinches conference crown

While clinching the conference championship was a significant achievement, the Burlington Central boys basketball team clearly has higher aspirations.

The Rockets (25-3, 10-2) locked up the inaugural Kishwaukee River Conference title with a 74-54 victory over Woodstock North Friday on senior night, but their thoughts quickly turned to the postseason, where they hope to make a serious run as the top seed in the Class 3A Marmion regional.

"It comes down to us wanting to be full force for regionals," said Central senior Joey Ratzek, who went 9-for-12 from the field as part of a game-high 23-point performance.

"Our focus for playoffs would be making sure we come out strong right out of the gate."

"Winning conference was a milestone for us and it was on our list, but that's not what we want. We want regionals, and after that sectionals, and just keep going," added Rockets senior guard Emmanuel Wells. "We just have to stay hungry."

"We've been waiting for this moment for a while now, and I think the guys are ready to grind it out and see how far we can take it in the postseason," said Central coach Brett Porto as his squad looks to win its first regional title since 2008.

It was an emotional night for seniors Ratzek, Wells and TaVontae Harris (11 points) as they took the home court for the final time.

From the personal picture boards, to the touching pregame tribute, followed by the standing ovations as they left the court in the final minutes, the trio soaked in the atmosphere.

"It felt very emotional. We were we fortunate to win a lot of games here over the years and make a lot of memories together," Harris said.

"Burlington Central basketball is a different breed. You grow up in the program from fifth, sixth, seventh grade and you think about tonight," Ratzek said. "There's a lot to take in, but it was fun being out there with my guys, my brothers and experiencing this with them."

Woodstock North (5-20, 2-10) played well at the start and took a 21-18 lead two minutes into the second quarter on a 3-pointer from Vic Oritz (17 points).

Central answered with a 9-point spurt, highlighted by a steal and hoop and a 3-pointer from Michael Kalusa (10 points).

The Thunder climbed back within 29-28 before the Rockets forced four turnovers in the final two minutes of the half and went on an impressive 12-1 run.

"They did a nice job of spreading things out early on and we gambled in some spots we shouldn't have," Porto said. "We kept at it and kept throwing them off their spots."

Central extended the lead to 55-33 midway through the third quarter and although the Thunder got within 62-52, the outcome was never in doubt.

"Offensively I thought we executed very well and got some quality looks throughout the night," Porto said.

Zach Schutta contributed 14 points and 5 rebounds for the Rockets, who will face the winner of Monday's regional quarterfinal between Montini and Marmion on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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