ROCKTON- Two high school basketball teams searching for their respective identities met up for the first time in several years Saturday night at Hononegah.
The game went along as expected with two teams that have searched for consistency this season: There were moments of brilliance, stretches of struggle and, in the end, a Hononegah victory.
The Indians outlasted Beloit Memorial 54-45 after rallying from a 12-point third-quarter deficit.
The Purple Knights came out swinging from the opening tip and scored the game's first 10 points to establish an early advantage.
"Give Beloit a lot of credit because they were ready to go and they took it to us," Hononegah coach Mike Miller said. "It was a situation where we were fortunate to be down only 10-0. On the flip side of that, I was really proud of our guys that we were able to fight back."
It didn't take long for the Indians to respond. Keyed by a pair of 3-pointers by junior Chris Akelaitis, the Indians closed the first quarter on an 11-0 run to take a 17-16 lead.
The second quarter was controlled by the Purple Knights. Playing with heart, passion and intensity, the Knights used a balanced scoring effort and a terrific team effort defensively to take a 31-24 lead at the break.
Beloit extended its advantage to 36-24 before the Indians made their move in the middle of the third quarter.
Senior Zach Hedrington was the key figure in the rally, scoring all nine of his points in the game in a flurry late in the third quarter. By the time the run ended in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Indians had scored 18 straight points to take a 42-36 lead.
Beloit responded with five straight points to cut the lead to a point, but the Indians closed strong to earn the win and improve to 11-7 overall.
Hedrington had missed several games with a sprained ankle and Saturday marked his true return to the rotation.
"He played about three minutes for us against East Friday night, but the minutes he gave us tonight were huge," Miller said. "We didn't know what we were going to get with him, and in the first half it was kind of rough. But he really got back to being himself in the second half, and Nick Pierson is always just a warrior inside battling for rebounds and helping us with ball handling. I'm just really proud of our guys."
Pierson led the team with 15 points, Akelaitis had 13 and Trent Devries finished with nine.
"We're definitely on an upward trend," Miller said. "We really haven't been together yet. It seems like we've always been missing one or two players for some reason. We are still kind of figuring out who we are and how to play together, but we're starting to get more fluid in our sets. The thing that I'm most happy with is that our competitive level is getting better."
The Knights were led by Jaden Bell's 15 points. Beloit coach Dondre Bell was pleased with his team's ability to work together.
"We really focused our bench energy and being great teammates," Bell said. "And that's how we came out. We all supported each other, and that makes you feel good. We just have to continue to add pieces to this puzzle until its solved."
• UP NEXT: The Indians will face Belvidere Wednesday night while the Purple Knights will take on Janesville Parker at Barkin Arena Thursday.
• VERONA 49, BELOIT MEMORIAL 42: The Knights faced a similar story Friday night when a late scoring drought doomed them to a defeat, this time at Barkin Arena.
Beloit led 38-34 with just under seven minutes remaining in the game, but were held scoreless for the next six minutes as the Wildcats ran off 13 straight points to take command of the game.
Beloit trailed 25-24 at halftime before surging ahead in the second half.
The Knights were led by Terrell Ringer's 14 points, while Amariah Cook had 12. The loss dropped the Knights to 1-7 in Big Eight Conference play.
• ROCKFORD EAST 66, HONONEGAH 58: The Indians hung right with 15-1 East, battling to the final few minutes.
Hononegah led 41-38 heading into the fourth quarter before the first-place E-Rabs hit their stride and outscored the Indians 28-17 in the final period.
Chris Burnell led East with 17 points, while Nick Pierson led Hononegah with 17. Trent Devries added 13 while Chris Akelaitis had 10.