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As much fun as Aurora Central had winning at the buzzer last Friday at the Sandwich regional title game, the Chargers made it a lot easier on their fans' collective heart rates when they returned to the court Wednesday night in the Class 3A Sycamore sectional semifinals.
Aurora Central got its matchup with Johnsburg going at the up-tempo pace it wanted early, scoring 20 points in the first quarter. By the second quarter the Chargers had opened a double-digit lead and they never looked back in a 58-46 victory.
The win sets up a rematch of last year's sectional championship game with Rockford East (19-10) at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The Chargers (12-17) won an 85-82 thriller last year at Woodstock North, getting a last-second deep 3 from Ryan Harreld to force overtime.
Coming off a 51-50 victory over Yorkville on Joey McEachern's 18-footer at the buzzer, the Chargers dominated the Skyhawks (10-18). Phil Schuetz led the way with a career-high 17 points and 11 rebounds as he capitalized on Johnsburg's 2-3 zone by attacking from the short corner and also hitting the offensive boards hard.
"Friday was awesome but wins like these are great too," Schuetz smiled. "Any win is a great win.
"All coach (Nate Drye) was telling me all week was to attack when I got it. If I saw anybody open I'd try to get it to them and if I had the layup I'd go up with that. I love attacking and when I get open looks for my teammates it feels great."
Schuetz, Robert DeMyers (16 points), Anthony Andujar (14 points) and McEachern (9 points) combined for 56 of Aurora Central's 58 points. Both Andujar and Schuetz made nifty reverse layups in traffic to wow the Chargers crowd.
Johnsburg took its only leads of the game early, the final one at 8-7 on the second of back-to-back layups beating the Chargers press.
But those early transition buckets also picked the pace of the game up, and pretty soon Aurora Central was in its element with DeMyers scoring on a lay-in, McEachern converting an alley-oop on a feed from Matt Czerak and McEachern ending the quarter with a 3 to put the Chargers ahead 20-12.
"We wanted to run, we thought we were faster than them," Drye said. "We got our sideline break going which is our bread-and-butter and I thought we beat them down the floor several times and got some easy looks at it. They got a couple easy baskets but they also got suckered into playing a little faster than they wanted to do."
The Chargers defense took over in the second quarter holding the Jayhawks to 2-of-10 shooting from the field.
Johnsburg finished 17 of 52 for the game (32.7 percent) continuing a postseason trend that has seen the Chargers hold Marmion to 41 percent and Yorkville to 33 percent. The 6-foot-5 DeMeyers gets a lot of credit for that, not only for his 4 more blocked shots and 5 steals Wednesday but all the other shots he alters.
"The key in the first half is we were intimidated," Johnsburg coach Mike Toussaint said. "Offensively everything was timid, all our shots were floaters, we didn't attack. We got the ball in position we wanted, we just didn't shoot the ball, we just flung it up there hoping it went in. He (DeMyers) had an impact that way."
Leading 34-18 at halftime, the Chargers extended to 42-23 late in the third quarter. Johnsburg got as close as 42-33 in the fourth before DeMyers put the exclamation point on the win with consecutive putback jams.
The first was a two-hand follow and the second a one-hand stuff -- a dunk he said would have been even better if he wasn't playing at 90 to 95 percent recovering from his broken fibula that sidelined him seven games.
"I would have been able to cock it back more," DeMyers said. "They were starting to make their little comeback and I felt that sparked the end of it. Any time you can get a dunk like that it just helps the momentum of your team."
The Chargers went 1-6 in the seven games DeMyers missed. He's not only been putting up big numbers since returning, his presence on both ends is helping all his teammates.
"Our defense is built around him," Drye said. "A lot of stuff gets funneled to him. He gets a lot of blocks but he also adjusts a lot of shots. He covers a lot of mistakes by other guys. We can push out on the perimeter because he controls the entire paint."
The Chargers will need DeMyers and company to be at their best Friday against Rockford East and Steven McNease, the E-Rabs' big man who scored 21 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's semifinal win over Kaneland.
McNease also scored 21 points in last year's sectional final, a classic the Chargers somehow won despite making 9 of 30 free throws.
"He's a monster," Drye said. "He hurt us a lot last year. He makes shots with a high degree of difficulty that you might think are bad shots but they are not. He's a terrific player. We've got our hands full."