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Little Ten Conference Boys Basketball Tournament History

1979 Tournament
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Young Shabbona Club Wins LTC Title Over Top Seed Leland

Sentimental Favorite Panthers Fall in Final, Tourney Delayed a week

The biggest story entering the 1979 Little Ten Conference Tournament wasn’t match ups or Cinderella stories, but the weather. The tournament was set to start in Hinckley on Saturday, January 13th, but a huge snow storm all but shut down everything for just under a week. The Blizzard of 79 as it was called, dropped a record 20.3 inches of snow from Friday until late Sunday on top of 10 or so inches that had fallen on New Years Eve night. Teams and coaches were limited in practice time as the roads across northern Illinois were treacherous, some impassable. Finally after a week of rescheduling and waiting, the tournament began a week later and ran without any more weather or travel problems.

The Shabbona Indians entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed and were starting four juniors and a senior. Head coach Dave Fultz, who played on two Shabbona LTC tournament championship teams (1959 and 1960) led his club to their third tournament title in the 70s with a 61-55 victory over sentimental favorite and top seed Leland. The Panthers had last appeared in the title game in 1964, but had not won a tournament championship since 1928.

The Indians began tournament play with a 53-45 win over sixth-seeded Serena and then won a hard fought contest over No. 2 Somonauk 70-66 in the semifinals. Leland ran by Paw Paw in their opening game 57-31 and then edged fourth-seeded Newark 48-45 in the semifinals.

Somonauk grabbed third place honors with a 75-63 triumph over Newark.

PAW PAW 55, WATERMAN 52

Waterman led 12-4 after one quarter. Then Paw Paw’s Dave Smith scored 17 of his game-high 27 points in the second period in which the Bulldogs out scored the Wolverines 29-22 to get with in one (34-33) at halftime.

“I think we started so slow because we’ve been away from basketball so long,” head coach Denny Kunnemann told the Ottawa Daily Tmes. “We did manage to get in one practice on Thursday.”

Randy Rhoads added 10 points for the Bulldogs, who shot 46-percent (23-49) from the floor. Gene Guihan led Waterman with 23 points, Rusty Baie added 15. The Wolverines were 17-of-43 (39.5%) from the field in the game.

SHABBONA 53, SERENA 45

Serena led 30-24 in the third quarter before Shabbona’s Larry Hickey six straight points. The Huskers hit just 3-of-21 shots in the fourth period, while the Indians nailed 10-of-15 free throws to pull away.

Hickey led the winners with 20 points, John Herrick chipped in 13. Serena was paced by Rich Rosengren’s 12 points.

NEWARK 56, HINCKLEY-BIG ROCK 48

The Royals led by six points in the third quarter when Newark head coach Chuck Nelson had his club switch to a zone defense from their man-to-man. The result was numerous H-BR turnovers (28 in the game) and a Norsemen 16-2 run to gain a 10-point lead. The Royals cut the disadvantage to four points with 2:12 remaining, but top scorer Craig Campbell, who had started to heat up, fouled out on a three-point play by Newark, which spelled the end to the Royals come back hopes.

Dale Hook led the Norsemen with 19 points, Bryce Nordengren had 14 and brothers Mike and Bill Shields added 10 each. H-BR was paced by 16 points from Don Chapman, Campbell ended with 14.

LELAND 57, PAW PAW 31

The Panthers raced out to a 20-9 after the first eight minutes and extended that lead to 35-18 at intermission. Leland hit a scorching 61-percent from the field for the game and forced 26 Bulldog turnovers. Senior Randy Keller led LHS with 20 points, Gerald Friut added 17. Dave Smith and Randy Rhoads top Paw Paw with 10 points each.

Keller’s story was one of those great stories in LTC history. The 6-footer had never played high school basketball until his senior year and hadn’t played organized basketball since the sixth grade. He worked fixing tires for a local trucking company and according to head coach Roger Dorio he was very good at it. After Leland’s record setting season the year before, Keller decided he wanted to be a part of it. Dorio also said that if Keller had played his first three years he may have been one of the premier players in the conference, well at least for this game he was.

SOMONAUK 67, MALTA 58

The teams were tied at 20-all after the first frame and Somonauk pushed out to a 35-31 halftime led. The Bobcats, who were playing only their second game in over two weeks, pulled away midway through the fourth quarter to move on to the semifinals. Somonauk had to cancel two home games prior because of heating problems at their gym.

Greg McRill led the Bobcats with 20 points, Eric Voss had 15, Brad Anderson 14. Malta received 19 points from Rob Peterson, Ron Peterson chipped in 12, Lance Romanski 10.

SEMIFINALS

LELAND 48, NEWARK 45

Leland guard Dirk Gunderson scored a career high 24 points to go along with an amazing 11 rebounds as the Panthers hung on against Newark to keep their hopes of a LTC tournament championship alive. Newark, who trailed at halftime 26-23, switch up defenses in the second half. The Norsemen still trailed 44-39 with 1:25 to go in the game, but cut the disadvantage to 46-45 following two hoops by Mike Shields and a 20-footer by Dale Hook. Newark then caused a Leland turnover at the :17 mark, but their next shot missed and Panther center Gerald Fruit (10 points) grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Fruit missed the front end of the 1-and-bonus and Hook grabbed the board. With time running out, Hook passed ahead to Mike Shields, who had gotten behind the Leland defense, but Shields was called for traveling with :03 on the clock. Gunderson snared a long pass on the ensuing out of bounds and scored a lay up as time expired.

Mike Shields led Newark with 20 points, Bryce Nordengren added 10 points and had 10 caroms.

SHABBONA 70, SOMONAUK 66

Shabbona led 18-4 after one quarter and 36-23 at halftime. The Bobcats struggled in the first half as they it just 6-of-35 (1-of-17 1st quarter) in the first half. The Indians stretched the lead to 17 points early in the third period, but then started to turn the ball over and the Bobcats cashed in by going on a 19-4 run, ending with a three-point play by Greg McRill to tie the game at 62-all with 1:45 left to go in the game. But the Bobcat comeback was denied by Shabbona as the Indians dropped in eight free throws over the final 1:42 to get the win and advance to the title game.

McRill led Somonauk with 17 points and 10 rebounds, Doug Jelm added 16 points of the bench. Shabbona was paced by Curt Foster’s 17 points, Greg Gesin had 16 and John Herrick 15. The two teams combined to commit 58 turnovers in the game, Shabbona 31 and Somonauk 27.

THIRD PLACE GAME

SOMONAUK 75, NEWARK 63

Although the Bobcats were in major foul trouble, head coach Ron Anderson elected to press the entire game and it finally paid off. Newark, who dressed just eight players, led 34-32 at halftime and 52-45 entering the fourth quarter, however the Norsemen turned the ball over eight times in the final period and were out-scored 30-11 giving the Bobcats third place honors.

“I’m sure people were wondering why we didn’t take the press off after we got into foul trouble, but I figured we’d come this far with it, why take it off now,” Anderson told the Ottawa Daily Times. “I really feared a letdown after we lost to Shabbona. I guess the kids finally decided to play in the fourth quarter.”

Eric Voss scored a game-high 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting for the Bobcats. Lefty Greg McRill added 21 points, Brad Anderson 15. Newark was led by Bryce Nordengren’s 17 points, while Bill Shields had 15, younger brother Mike chipped in 13.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

SHABBONA 61, LELAND 55

As a good luck charm the 1928 LTC Tournament trophy traveled with the 1979 club to each night of the tournament. The Panthers hadn’t been to the title game 15 years and even with them being the top seed were many fans sentimental favorite to take two championship trophies back to Leland with them. However a young Shabbona team, who started four juniors, had thoughts of taking the top prize back home with them instead.

The Indians led 31-21 at the intermission. Leland head coach Roger Dorio ordered a full-court press to start the second half which bothered Shabbona. Leland’s Gerald Fruit scored nine of his 17 points in the third period as LHS pulled within 7, 44-36.

Dirk Gunderson started to take over, Shabbona center Chris Watson picked up his third and fourth fouls early in the fourth frame. Leland got within two with a Gunderson drive a the 3:34 mark, then Fruit scored a three-point play at 2:30, on a play in which Watson fouled out.

Larry Hickey netted a three-point play of his own for Shabbona at 2:14 and then a hobbling John Herrick, who injured an ankle in the Somonauk game, hit a jumper at 1:45 to make it a five point game. Gunderson scored again, but that is as close as the Panthers would get.

Watson led Shabbona with 20 points, Hickey had 17, Greg Gesin 15. Leland was paced by Gunderson’s 24, while Fruit ended with 17.

Note: Shabbona head coach Dave Fulltz, who played on championship Shabbona teams in 1959 and 1960, captured his third title in the 70s.

 

 

1979 LITTLE TEN CONFERENCE

FINAL SCORING LEADERS

CONFERENCE GAMES ONLY

                                            g pts avg.

1. Gerald Fruit, Leland.................... 8 162 20.3

2. Greg McRill, Somonauk................... 8 157 18.9

3. Kurt Samo, Malta........................ 8 147 18.4

4. Eric Voss, Somonauk..................... 6 104 17.0

5. Randy Rhoads, Paw Paw................... 6  96 16.0

6. Rob Peterson, Malta..................... 8 115 14.4

7. Ron Hunt, Waterman...................... 8 114 14.3

8. Bryce Nordengren, Newark................ 8 112 14.0

9. Brad Anderson, Somonauk................. 8 111 13.9

10. Dave Smith, Paw Paw.................... 8 104 13.0

11. (tie) Ron Peterson, Malta.............. 8 103 12.9

12. Dirk Gunderson, Leland................. 8 103 12.9

13. Chris Watson, Shabbona................. 8 102 12.8

14. Don Chapman, Hinckley-Big Rock......... 8 101 12.6

15. Mike Shields, Newark................... 7  84 12.0

 

FINAL 1979 LITTLE TEN CONFERENCE STANDINGS 

                W L                     

Somonauk            8  0

Leland              6  2

Shabbona            6  2

Serena              4  4

Malta               4  4

Hinckley-Big Rock   4  4

Newark              3  5

Paw Paw             1  7

Waterman            0  8

 

LTC Tournament Preview

Coaches quotes in Ottawa Daily Times from January 11, 1979

Leland head coach Roger Dorio

“To say it’s going to be wide open would be an understatement. I think any one of the top seven teams could make it to the semifinals. I wouldn’t even rule out (No. 8) Paw Paw. They stayed with us for the last three quarters.”

“It’s the first time we’ve ever been seeded No. 1 and we haven’t won the tournament in 51 years (1928). The people up here are excited about it. But the middle teams are so bunched up. There is no clear-cut favorite.”

Shabbona head coach Dave Fultz

“It’s just like anything else, the team that is the most consistent during that week will win. I’ve seen teams get hot and win it. A lot of times the team that wins the conference (regular season), doesn’t win the tournament.”

Championship Game Box Score

LELAND (55)

                   FGA FG PCT. FTA FT PF PTS

Gunderson           24 11 45.8   2  2  4  24

Fruit               15  7 46.7   4  3  3  17

Heher                2  0 00.0   4  1  3   1

Keller               8  2 25.0   4  3  4   7

Todd                 2  0 00.0   0  0  2   0

Brown                5  3 60.0   0  0  5   6

                    -- -- ----  -- -- --  --

Totals              56 23 41.1  14  9 21  55

SHABBONA(61)

                   FGA FG PCT. FTA FT PF PTS

Foster               0  0 00.0   0  0  4   0

Spohn                4  1 25.0   4  3  3   5

Watson              15 10 66.7   0  0  5  20

Hickey              10  4 40.0  12  9  2  17

Gesin                7  6 85.7   6  3  2  15

Herrick              3  2 66.7   0  0  1   4

                    -- -- ----  -- -- --  --

Totals              39 23 59.0  18 14 17  61

Score by quarters

Leland                       8 13 15 19 - 55

Shabbona                    17 14 13 17 - 61