O’Brien: Belleville Althoff ends St. Joseph’s state title quest

PEORIA — St. Joseph’s Nick Rakocevic was one of the state’s most polarizing players the past four years. He helped the Chargers win the Class 3A state title last season, but even that wasn’t enough to silence some of his critics.

The 6-11 center’s demonstrative on-court persona rubs some fans and some college coaches the wrong way. It’s impossible to argue with the results though. Rakocevic led an extremely young team to the state semifinals, where they lost to Belleville Althoff 66-62 on Friday.

“I feel like I let [my teammates] down,” Rakocevic said. “My shots just weren’t falling. That’s where my frustration comes in. If I made those shots we would be advancing. You can’t blame anyone but me.”

Rakocevic scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. He shot 6-for-15.

“He did a great job,” St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore said. “His ball wasn’t falling. A year from now, 20 pounds more of strength, those shots will be going in. He couldn’t muscle through those big strong guys and that was the difference.”

Marquise Walker, St. Joseph’s freshman point guard, scored 18 points. It was one of the most impressive performances by a freshman point guard in state tournament history. He dished off four assists and shot 7-for-16.

But Althoff (31-2) had junior Jordan Goodwin, who would not be denied. The guard scored 25 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. He seemed to take his game to another level every time St. Joseph tied the game or took the lead.

“I was just being aggressive,” Goodwin said. “Guys game me the ball in good positions for me to score.”

Goodwin plays with severe intensity. Althoff coach Greg Leib described his star player’s game well.

“He’s trying to catch bodies, that’s what he’s trying to do,” Leib said. “It’s so I have to hear about it when we are watching film.”

UIC recruit Tarkus Ferguson scored 11 for the Crusaders and Brendon Gooch added 10 points and 11 rebounds.

St. Joseph beat Belleville Althoff in the title game last season.

“We were definitely looking for revenge,” Ferguson said.

Rakocevic was emotional after the loss. He’s the state’s top uncommitted senior.

“Obviously we came down here to win the state championship again,” Rakocevic said. “We have friendships that will last forever. I would take a bullet for all of these guys up here. That’s just the way it is. You go out there everyday, you battle with them. They are your teammates and they become your brothers.”

Althoff will face Lincoln-Way West in the Class 3A state title game on Saturday.

“[Lincoln-Way West] has to be tough, they went out and took down Morgan Park,” Leib said. “Morgan Park was the anointed one in Chi-Town.”

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