Defense was the theme as Conant hosted St. Patrick in a Class 4A regional semifinal Wednesday night.
"It was just two teams that played really tough defense," said Cougars coach Tom McCormack, a St. Patrick alumnus. "The rebounding difference St. Pat's had (32-14) ultimately was the difference in the game."
The Shamrocks used that advantage to secure a 41-29 win and set up Friday night's regional final against East Suburban Catholic Conference foe Notre Dame.
Sophomore guard Elijah Watson scored 6 of his 8 points in the fourth quarter and also grabbed 4 of his 8 rebounds in the final period. Kortney Darby and Royale Ewing led St. Patrick, now 15-11 and winners of four in a row, with 11 points. Darby had 8 rebounds and Ewing finished with 5 boards.
"To win tonight," said Watson, "we had to deny (London) Dokubo and (Dylan) Bartuch the ball. I knew down the stretch that we had to control the boards. Early in the year I had doubts, but I've gained confidence as the season has gone on."
The Cougars (17-11) never led in the contest but came close several times. Conant shot just 24 percent, connecting on 8 of 24 shots. Their defense, though, kept them in the game.
Conant closed to 28-25 with 4:53 left in the game when Sean Bourke hit a 3-point basket. Darby countered with an offensive putback before Dokubo scored on a reverse layup to make the score 30-27 with 3:50 left.
Darby made 2 free throws and Ewing scored a basket before Dokubo hit 2 of 3 free throws for Conant's final points with 1:41 left, making the score 34-29.
The Shamrocks then hit 7 of 10 free throws down the stretch to secure the win. St. Patrick hit on 13 of 30 field-goal attempts (43 percent).
"We played well off the glass," said St. Patrick coach Mike Bailey. "Ever since our second loss to Benet, we've been playing with a lot more toughness. The key tonight was keeping (Avery) Osby out of the middle and limiting the touches for Bartuch."
"We had a chance to tie the game after we pulled to within 28-25, but a 3-pointer from the corner missed," said McCormack. "I felt we defended the inside well, but again their rebounding was the difference."
Bartuch led Conant with 9 points and George Pessimisis came off the bench to score 6 points.