Odera Eneogwe hoped this would not be his last boys basketball game in a Maine West uniform when he fouled out with 2:04 to play in Tuesday night's Class 4A regional semifinal in Des Plaines.
Those hopes increased when sophomore Tom Kukec nailed a coldblooded 3-pointer with 1:14 left to cut Maine South's lead to 2 points.
But that was as close as Eneogwe and his senior teammates would get to playing for the Warriors again. The 14th seed's upset bid on their home floor fell short as No. 3 Maine South (21-9) scored the final 5 points in a 45-38 victory at Rider Gymnasium.
"I was hoping the guys could pull it off," said Eneogwe, who had 9 points and 10 rebounds. "It was encouraging. I didn't want this to end and they didn't want it to either.
"We felt like this Maine South team was good but beatable. We just couldn't pull it off and they're a good team."
Matt Palucki had 9 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and Tony Albano had 13 points and 4 assists as the Hawks never trailed in the final 26:52. They will return to Maine West at 7:30 p.m. Friday for the regional championship against the winner of today's 7:30 p.m. semifinal between No. 6 Loyola and No. 11 Niles West.
"I felt we left some points on the floor with a couple of key layups we missed in transition and (Maine South is) well-coached and well-disciplined," said Maine West coach Erik McNeill after a 17-11 finish matched the 2005-06 team for the best in his seven-year tenure. "I thought the guys did a nice job of battling back to cut it to two but we couldn't overcome them."
Junior Conor Hart scored 12 of his team-high 15 points and Eneogwe hit a pair of turnaround jumpers to help Maine West rally from an 8-point deficit to within 23-22 with 3:38 left in the third.
Hart missed a two-hand breakaway dunk after a turnover but Maine West retained possession on a held ball. On the inbound, Eneogwe's potential go-ahead score was wiped out on late charging call near the basket.
"A lot of the charging calls I felt killed us," Eneogwe said of four in the second half on the Warriors. "When anybody gets a charge it brings you mentally down."
And Maine South finally found some openings in Maine West's 1-2-2 and 3-2 zone it just put in to deal with the 6-foot-7 Palucki (8 rebounds) and 6-5 Casey Bruce (8 points, 8 rebounds).
Matt Lahey and Nick Calabrese hit 3s for their only points and Palucki got a 3-point play off an Albano inbound lob with 54 seconds left in the third to put the Hawks up 32-23 .
"The difference in the second half was some of their role players hit some big 3s," McNeill said.
"(Albano) has been clutch all year," said Maine South coach Tony Lavorato Jr. "Palucki didn't have his best game, but you can't win in the postseason with a one-man show. You have to play team basketball."
Maine South led 37-28 with 4:13 left when Maine West made one last surge that included Emmett Turner-Jackson's steal and layup and Pat Livingston's 2 free throws.
Kukec, who was called up with senior Paul Solka out with a broken nose, got the home crowd rocking when he nailed his second fourth-quarter 3 to get the Warriors within 40-38 at 1:14.
Palucki and Albano silenced them by hitting 5-of-6 free throws in the final 37 seconds for the Hawks, who beat their District 207 rivals in overtime at Thanksgiving.
"I don't feel like I left anything else on the court," Eneogwe said. "But I felt if I was still in there I could have given us the edge to win."