Aurora Central blocked 11 Rochelle shots Friday night in the Class 3A Sycamore regional championship, none bigger than the one junior center Robert DeMyers delivered with 20 seconds left in a cliffhanger.
DeMyers dished out his seventh block when he batted away a turnaround jumper by Rochelle's 6-4 senior center Joe Torres as the Chargers were clinging to a 54-51 lead.
DeMyers corralled the loose ball, was fouled, and calmly sank two free throws to seal the title 56-51 for third-seeded Aurora Central, sending the Chargers off to the Woodstock North sectional Wednesday night against Marian Catholic.
"That's what I do, I just block shots," DeMyers said of his key defensive play. "We've come to this game three years straight and come up short (the last two years), and we all really wanted it tonight."
DeMyers did his part, adding a team-high 15 points to go with 5 rebounds, 3 assists and the 7 blocks.
"Robert is huge, that's what he does for us," Aurora Central coach Nate Drye said. "They think they can turn and score on him, but he jumps out of the gym and he's got long arms and great timing.
"I think he takes great offense when people think they can turn and score on him. He was awesome."
Aurora Central (15-13) needed all of DeMyers' interior defense and more, as Rochelle guard Grant Prusator was in another world in torching the nets for a game-high 26 points on the strength of six 3-pointers.
Rochelle (19-12) sank 10 3-pointers in the game, but made only one free throw while getting to the line for only three shots.
"Prusator was throwing in everything he put up there," Drye said. "I thought we did a good job inside, but they just went farther away from the hoop to score, and they jack up 3s like they are going out of style."
Even though the Hubs were getting a lot of outside shots to drop from Prusator and Matt Rosenwinkel (11 points), the Chargers were able to maintain a lead most of the first half by attacking inside. Tim Fernandez (11 points) scored inside twice, Ryan Harreld (11 points) put in a nifty up-and-under layup, and DeMyers had a dunk and short jumper in the lane to give ACC an 11-9 lead after one period.
In the second quarter, the Chargers matched the Hubs' long-range gunnery with their only 3-pointers of the night from Paul Kaminski and Matt Czerak.
But an unsung hero emerged for the Chargers when 5-10 guard Anthony Andujar, a call-up from the sophomore team, came into the game to do the bulk of the ballhandling against Rochelle's full-court pressure. Andujar immediately broke down the defense with drives to the hoop and assists, helping the Chargers cling to a 37-36 halftime lead.
"He's been hurt a lot this season, and we were waiting to spring Anthony in a game," Drye said of his key substitute. "I thought he was awesome tonight and probably the difference in the game."
For his part, Andujar showed composure usually reserved for an experienced senior.
"I was pretty calm out there, and just take care of the ball because that's what I got brought up for," Andujar said. "But I was kind of surprised when I got in."
Rochelle finally grabbed the lead when Prusator opened the second half with a driving layup and a 3-pointer for a 41-37 edge. When Torres made a steal and raced the length of the court for a slam dunk, the Hubs led 45-42 and had all of the momentum with 5:30 left in the game.
But Joe McEachern, who had a game-high 8 rebounds, scored three points, Andujar broke loose for a layup and DeMyers scored inside to vault the Chargers to a 49-45 lead with 2:48 left.
Rochelle committed a crucial turnover, and DeMyers delivered a big blow when he grabbed the rebound from Harreld's missed free throw and put it in for a 51-45 lead with 2:16 remaining.
DeMyers added another free throw 20 seconds later, but Torres drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to trim the lead to 52-48.
After Harreld slipped in two more free throws, Prusator answered with his final 3-pointer. The Chargers then turned over the ball, setting up DeMyers' dramatic block and his finishing free throws.
"I thought we lost the game on the offensive boards because they got shot after shot," Rochelle coach Russ Zick said of the key second chances the Chargers turned into points. "We've always been a two-man team in terms of where we rely on our scoring, and we just couldn't get others to score tonight.
"We had a lot of blocked shots on us tonight and that's tough, and we didn't get them back, and that's impressive," Zick said. "I scouted Aurora Central and I know exactly how they are going to try to win, and I mean that as an ultimate compliment because they aren't going to change what they are going to do."
In the joyous moments on the floor afterward, Drye was quick to point to the confidence his team instills in him.
"I thought we were the better team going in, and had a real good chance to win the regional," said Drye, whose team last won a regional in 2008. "We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit with our turnovers and they got smoking hot there, but I thought we did a great job tonight."