LITTLE RIVER --- The Little River High School boys basketball team is used to being undersized.
Little River lists its tallest player at 6 foot 1. Friday night in the regional semifinals, Little River matched up with a much taller opponent in Stafford.
Little River found itself guarding a taller opponent at every position and understandably gave up some offensive rebounds. But thanks to the hot shooting of Trey Rolfs, Little River gained the lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back, resulting in a 65-48 win to keep the season alive.
Little River hosts St. John Saturday at 2:30 p.m. for the regional championship, but already has a berth at sub-state secured.
Little River head coach Chad Lafferty admitted elimination games can be stressful for coaches, but believes it adds an extra element of fuel for his players.
“From a coaches perspective it can be kind of nervous,” Lafferty said. “For the kids I think it can sometimes be a motivation because it’s do or die. I thought we played pretty well and took care of business when it needed to be taken care of.”
The two teams split the first 20 points. Tied at 10, Rolfs and Jayden Garrison hit back-to-back 3s to give Little River a 16-10 lead after one.
The consecutive triples were the start of a 17-4 Little River run that extended into midway through the second quarter. Little River led by as many as 13 before Stafford fought back.
Still, Little River took a 28-19 lead into halftime.
Stafford’s Ethan Hildebrand scored five consecutive points to start the second half. After Rolfs hit a 3 to put Little River back up by seven, Stafford clawed back to within three at the end of three.
But Rolfs hit back-to-back deep 3-pointers to give Little River a seven-point lead. The dagger came when Garrison was fouled on a shot resulting in two free throws, but Stafford was assessed a technical foul to give Garrison two more.
Garrison made all four free throws and the Little River lead was back to double digits. From there it was all Little River. Rolfs hit his fifth 3-pointer with 2:46 left as Little River pulled away for a 17-point win.
Rolfs finished with a game-high 21 points and some clutch shots.
“He came up big tonight,” Lafferty said. “He was feeling it.”
Garrison provided a stellar one-two punch with 19 points. Graham Stephens was also solid with 12 points.
Lafferty knows his team has a tough matchup awaiting less than 24 hours later against top-seed St. John.
“They’ll be hard to defend,” Lafferty said. “They’re aggressive on defense, so we’ll have to make sure we can handle their man-to-man pressure.”