SYCAMORE – Burlington Central didn't start Saturday night's Leland G. Strombom tournament championship game at Sycamore shooting that well, but the Rockets made up for it by crashing the glass on both ends of the court.
Central's shots started to drop in the second half while the Rockets continued to dominate the boards, leading to a 69-54 win over Sterling and their first Strombom championship since winning back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016.
Rockets coach Brett Porto, who won his 200th game at Central Friday night, didn't wait long before starting on the next 200.
"I'm real excited," said Porto, adding he celebrated the milestone by hanging out with family and friends. "It was nice to think about all the different players. It was a nice night."”
So was Saturday.
Win No. 201 certainly was sweet, coming over a Sterling (3-1) team that had breezed through its pool play games.
"I think it's a good confidence booster for now but we all know that we're going into a tough conference," said senior Jake Lenschow, one of three Rockets on the all-tournament team. "We're prepared for that and to play hard every game."
The Rockets (4-0) got the win Saturday in no small part to their effort rebounding. Burlington Central outrebounded Sterling 42-19, led by Hudgens with 10, Lenschow eight, and Zac Schmidt and Gavin Sarvis with seven.
Hudgens and Schmidt joined Lenschow on the all-tournament team.
"It wasn't just the person getting the board it was everyone boxing out too," Hudgens said. "That was important."
No sequence showed the effort on the glass more than one to close the second quarter. Lenschow missed the second of two free throws, but Hudgens grabbed the offensive board and was fouled.
Hudgens made the first, missed the second and then pulled down a long rebound and knocked down a 17-footer just before the halftime buzzer for a 4-point possession and 29-23 halftime lead.
Sarvis picked up where the Rockets left off by starting the third quarter with a putback basket. Schmidt and Lenschow nailed 3s, then Lenschow stole the ball and led a fastbreak finding Schmidt for a layup, a 41-29 lead and a Sterling timeout.
Lenschow immediately hit a pair of 3s after that timeout as Central broke the game open.
The Rockets capped the quarter with another beautiful fastbreak. Carson Seyller grabbed a defensive rebound and threw a long outlet pass to Edward Wells, who dropped a perfect pass to Sarvis for a layup and a 54-37 lead going to the fourth. Sterling never got closer than 13 points.
"It felt good to get up and down and people were making smart decisions,” Lenschow said.
Central hit 13 of 21 shots from the field in the second half after going 11 for 26 in the first. Lenschow, held to one point in the first half, scored 19 in the second for a game-high 20 points followed by Hudgens with 18, Schmidt 12, Sarvis nine and Seyller eight.
"I knew I had to get myself going a different way so I tried rebounding and sprinting a little harder and then my shot started to fall a little bit there," Lenschow said. "It was an all-around good effort rebounding. We just fought for every board. We knew we had to rebound to win. That was a focal point."
The Rockets return to action Wednesday with their first game in the Fox Valley Conference at Cary-Grove.
"You never know with a group coming in where they are going to be at but I think a lot of kids have shown me their mental toughness, how physically tough they are, and we are going to need that this year," Porto said. "We faced adversity throughout this tournament and we found different ways to win games which is always nice to see early."”