It has been a parade of big game after big game for the Elgin boys basketball team this season, but Friday's sectional title-game showdown against defending champion Rockford Auburn makes everything that came before it pale by comparison.
Elgin didn't resemble a team of world beaters in its somewhat sleepy 43-34 victory over McHenry in Wednesday's semifinal of the Class 4A Dundee-Crown sectional, but the Maroons did enough to win.
That's all that matters in March.
"It's survive and advance," junior point guard Arie Williams pointed out. "You have to grind out wins sometimes."
By avoiding the upset bid by McHenry (12-16), a scrappy team that drew within 32-29 early in the fourth quarter, the Maroons cemented the matchup many have anticipated since postseason assignments were released.
It's Elgin (26-3) vs. Auburn (29-2) for the sectional title at 7:30 p.m.
It's Kory Brown (17 ppg) vs. Fred Van Vleet (20 ppg).
It's Elgin coach Mike Sitter vs. Auburn coach Bryan Ott, one of whom will win his second sectional title.
It's the two-time champion of the Upstate Eight River vs. the two-time NIC-10 champion.
It's the Maroon Platoon student section vs. Auburn's A-Team.
Onward to the Sweet 16.
"It was the first thing that hit us when we walked into the (locker) room -- we're playing for a sectional championship," Elgin senior Kory Brown said. " We have to go out there and leave it all out on the floor. No regrets."
"It's showtime," Williams said with a wide grin. "It's time to come out and play."
Don't use Elgin's showing against McHenry as a barometer for how they'll compete against Auburn. The Maroons rarely blew out sub-.500 teams ala McHenry this season. This Elgin team can be like a cat that toys with a mouse for hours -- it's clear who will eventually prevail, just a matter of when the boom is lowered.
On the other hand, the Maroons are at their best when challenged by great teams. Just ask La Lumiere. The only five people in Elgin's gymnasium on Dec. 22 who thought Elgin would beat that collection of talented Indiana prep schoolers were the five players wearing Maroon uniforms.
This Elgin team has already accomplished much. The Maroons won a Thanksgiving Tournament at Buffalo Grove, the first title at their own holiday tournament in 12 seasons, a share of the Upstate Eight River championship and their second straight regional title.
With Wednesday's victory over McHenry, they have advanced one step beyond last season's sectional semifinal exit. They have gone deeper in the tournament than any Elgin team since Sitter's 2007-08 squad advanced to a supersectional. Still, they want more.
"We're never satisfied," tri-captain Dennis Moore said. "We're doing this for our town and it's just another step Friday toward our goal of going all the way. It's going to be an amazing atmosphere on and off the court. I think you're going to see the best out of everybody on the court.
"May the best team win."