Leafing an impression on the court

Chris Steele
Isaiah Rivera slams home a two-handed dunk during the Maple Leafs' regional victory over LaSalle-Peru during the Class 3A Geneseo Regional.

The Maple Leafs had a strong finish to the regular season and hosted the Class 3A Geneseo Regional.

Geneseo at Yorkville

The Maple Leafs’ Jacob McConnell drained a pair of free throws with 6.1 seconds remaining to lift Geneseo to a 50-48 victory on Feb. 20.

Yorkville had a buzzer-beating shot miss as Geneseo survived for the Northern Illinois Big 12 win.

Geneseo’s Isaiah Rivera scored a game-high 24 points, and Jacob McConnell finished with six points.

Kyle Traphagan notched six points, and Joe McConnell tallied five points.

P.J. Moser finished with five points, and Anthony Pierce and Tim Lehman each added two points.

Sterling at Geneseo

The best way for the Maple Leafs to remember the final home game of the regular season was to show how much Geneseo’s young basketball team had developed.

The Maple Leafs were able to accomplish that defeating rival Sterling 70-55 at Geneseo High School on Feb. 22.

Geneseo’s Rivera put on another great performance scoring 39 points with 10 rebounds and eight assists.

The Maple Leafs dominated on the glass outrebounding the Golden Warriors 28-18 by the end of the game.

Geneseo’s Jacob McConnell scored 12 points, and Lehman finished with 11 points and four rebounds.

The Leafs’ Kade Ariano tallied four points with five rebounds, Traphagan finished with three points, and Pierce added two points.

Class 3A Geneseo Regional L-P (9) vs. Geneseo (8)

It’s hard to beat a team for the third time, but Geneseo’s confidence after defeating the Cavaliers twice during the regular season was critical.

The Maple Leafs took advantage of the Cavaliers’ frustration to earn a 63-51 victory over LaSalle-Peru in the first round of the Class 3A Geneseo Regional on Feb. 25.

LaSalle-Peru had taken its largest lead of the game 45-40 with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter when a foul was called to put Rivera at the line for two free throws.

However, a technical on one of the Cavaliers players was called after slamming the ball, giving Geneseo four free throws and the ball with 19 seconds remaining.

Rivera made 3-of-4 free throws, and Geneseo’s Traphagan knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Maple Leafs a 46-45 lead to start the fourth quarter.

“I kind of felt it was going in,” Traphagan said. “You could just tell with the atmosphere and everything felt good with my mechanics. I saw it drop, and I thought we are back in this.”

After L-P hit a 3-pointer to take the lead less than a minute into the fourth, Geneseo’s Rivera tipped in an offensive rebound to tie the game at 48.

Jacob McConnell made a pair of free throws to give Geneseo the lead, and the Leafs never trailed the rest of the game.

Rivera scored 11 more points in the fourth quarter, but Rivera believed what helped them put the game away was shutting down the L-P offense until both sides subbed out their starters with less than a minute to play.

“Defense wins championships,” Rivera said. “Everybody says it. It’s real stuff.”

After L-P made 9-of-18 in the first half from 3-point range, Geneseo tightened up on shooters in the second half leading to frustration.

“When we took that away they got frustrated at that,” Rivera said. “We had the mentally tougher team. The mentally tougher team in high school sports usually wins.”

A junior, Rivera finished with a game-high 35 points and 12 rebounds to help lead Geneseo to its first regional victory since 2015.

Jacob McConnell finished with eight points and six rebounds, and Traphagan scored eight points grabbed six rebounds.

Lehman tallied five points, Moser finished with four points and Pierce added three points.

“This is not the same team that we had even back at Christmas time,” Geneseo Coach Brad Strom said. “Guys are feeling it and excited about it, and playing at home we are a much more dangerous team.”

Class 3A Geneseo Regional Dixon (2) vs. Geneseo (8)

When the intensity began to rise in the second half against Dixon, Geneseo’s weaknesses and youth was exposed in the regional semifinal.

The No. 2 seeded Dukes defeated Geneseo 59-36 at Geneseo High School on Feb. 26.

Storm said the Dixon defense was the best squad Geneseo has faced all year, and the Maple Leafs must strive to reach that level as they grow next season.

“It’s a matter of confidence and skill level,” Storm said. “We are asking guys who should be playing the sophomore game to go out against a good Dixon team and compete.

“At the same time, it’s good for us to see that and know this is the level we need to get to and be able to handle.”

With Dixon leading 27-21 at halftime, the Dukes came out hot in the third quarter sparking a 12-3 run to start the second half.

Hampered by a 101-degree fever that started overnight, Rivera finished with 18 points and he was held to just six points in the second half as his stamina was clearly zapped after a strong first half.

A junior, Rivera finished the season demolishing the school single-season scoring record with 801 points, and he increased his career total to a record 1,634 points.

Despite the outcome, Geneseo had several signs of growth on the court as Lehman was a force in the post on his way to five points and four rebounds.

Jacob McConnell tacked on seven points, and Traphagan finished with two points.

“You can look at one game and be disappointed,” Storm said, “But I’m so proud of the development of these guys from where they started to now. It’s night and day. I’m really proud of the progress they have made and it’s been a fun year because of that.”

After earning their first regional win since 2015 against L-P, Geneseo finishes the season with an 11-18 overall records, and the Maple Leafs finished the NIB 12 season 8-5. Dixon will meet the winner of the Galesburg and Kewanee semifinal game in the Geneseo regional championship game on Friday, March 1 at 7 p.m.