Nothing seems to bother the Pekin boys basketball team these days.
That’s one reason why the Dragons are the improbable champions of their own Class 4A regional.
Pekin pulled off its second straight upset Friday night, beating Rock Island 51-44 in the regional title game in front of about 2,000 noisy fans in Hawkins Gym.
The Dragons will face Danville (30-3) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in an East Moline United Township Sectional semifinal game.
Pekin (17-12) has been on a roll since Jan. 11, winning 11 of 13 games. The Dragons were four games under .500 when they suddenly turned their season around.
“Our guys don’t panic,” said Pekin coach Jeff Walraven. “All three teams we played in the regional put pressure on you, and we were able to fight through it.”
Those three regional opponents were No. 10 seed Peoria High, No. 1 seed Normal Community and No. 4 seed Rock Island.
The No. 8 seed Dragons bulldozed right through them to end a seven-year regional championship drought. The Dragons last won a regional in 2012, under former coach Dave Mott.
Pekin owned the fourth quarter in the game against Rock Island (19-10).
Down 33-27 after three quarters, the Dragons outscored the Rocks 24-11 in the final eight minutes.
Pekin shot 6-for-8 from the field and it went 10-for-11 at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Rock Island missed all five of its free throws and was 5-for-17 from the field.
The Dragons took the lead for good (42-40) on a three-point play by Patrick Torrey with 1:41 to go. Their final seven points came on free throws (7-for-8).
Max Jones led Pekin with 20 points. The junior guard put on a shooting clinic in the second quarter, making all five of his shots including four triples and scoring all of the Dragons’ 14 points as Pekin took an 18-13 halftime lead.
Jones made three straight 3-pointers at one point, personally turning an 11-4 Rock Island lead into a 13-11 Pekin advantage with 3:42 left in the first half.
“I’m always confident when I shoot but when I start making shots like that, it feels like I can make them from anywhere,” Jones said. “I work hard on my shot. Lots of reps. Lots of practice.”
The 6-foot-7 Torrey, Pekin’s lone senior starter, was strong inside once again for the Dragons, scoring 13 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
Tyler Durr had nine points for Pekin, all in the second half with seven in the fourth quarter.
Adam Cash’s lone three points for the Dragons came on a triple to start the fourth quarter. His basket was part of an 11-2 run by Pekin after Rock Island led by eight points (31-23) late in the third quarter.
“We talked before the fourth quarter about staying calm, not worrying about the deficit,” Jones said. “We knew if we went out there and did our thing, we could win.”
Walraven didn’t like what he saw from his team in the third quarter, when Rock Island outscored Pekin 20-9.
“My concern was mostly because of how Rock Island scored,” he said. “One of their guys made a 3 from six feet behind the arc. So be it.
But they also scored on a put back, a transition after a turnover and a rebound after a 3 that missed.
“I told our guys we needed to take away the things we could control.”
Jordan Rice led Rock Island with 18 points and JaMir Price had 10 points. Rice had eight points in the third quarter.
Both Pekin and Rock Island shot 39 percent from the field. But while the Dragons were 11-for-15 at the free throw line, the Rocks were 1-for-8.
Jones and Walraven each said the crowd support helped the Dragons.
“We appreciated it so much,” Jones said. “It was great when they went crazy, even for a defensive rebound.”
Walraven, who won his first regional championship in his six years as the Dragons' coach, thanked the community members and Pekin students — who filled the bleachers under the east basket — who came out to support his team.
“They were a great sixth man tonight,” he said.
Danville, Pekin's next opponent, broke a school record for victories in a season set in 1949-50 when it defeated Bloomington 66-64 Friday night to win the Champaign Centennial Regional title.
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.