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Mooseheart boys basketball starts hot, hangs on

SERENA – Mooseheart has been working all year long to get one more shot at Chicagoland Jewish Academy.

That moment finally will arrive this Saturday with a championship on the line.

The Red Ramblers held off a big late charge Wednesday from Chicago Hope Academy to claim a 65-59 win in the IHSA Class 1A Serena Sectional semifinals.

The win puts Mooseheart into the championship game at 8 p.m. Saturday against Chicagoland Jewish, which last year rallied to eliminate Mooseheart on the Rambers’ home court.

“We’ve been waiting for a year,” Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said. “We’ve focused on things for a year, and what a good game to help us prepare. ... We have some great incentive. Our guys are looking forward to getting to the finals. We were at the game last night, and we said, ‘Hey, this is kind of what we were hoping for.’ You always want to play somebody that has beat you, and it’s a lot less things I have to do, motivation-wise.”

Ahrens would like to see a better finish from this team than he did Wednesday against Hope.

Behind a fantastic first half from Mangisto Deng, the Ramblers (25-5) had full control of the game, leading 22-6 after one quarter and 36-18 heading into halftime. Deng scored 21 of his game-high 29 points in the half.

Mooseheart pushed the lead out to 44-20 early in the third quarter after back-to-back slam dunks from Makur Puou, the first of which was on a beautiful alley-oop pass from Hameed Odunewu. At that point, it appeared as if the Ramblers’ ticket already had punched.

“Everybody celebrated because we were up by a lot,” Deng said. “I told them it’s not finished yet. We couldn’t just celebrate right now. [Hope] was a good team.”

Hope Academy thought the same thing, apparently.

After pulling within 53-38 after three quarters, the Eagles decided to expose Mooseheart’s weak foul shooting. They continuously fouled the Ramblers, who were just 10 of 23 in the period and 18 of 40 in the game.

That, along with big points from Carson Hughes (17 points), a technical foul on the Ramblers for too many men on the court and having Deng and 7-foot-1 Akim Nyang foul out, helped cut the lead all the way down to 62-59 with 1:03 to play.

However, after another split of free throws, Hope’s Rickey Calvin, who to that point had scored 17 points, missed two crucial free throws to allow Mooseheart to breathe easier. Another split of free throws and an Odunewu steal helped seal the game.

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