You can call veteran West Aurora coach Gordie Kerkman greedy for wanting to see his senior Josh Mcauley with his hands on the ball, and why not? Especially after the thunderous drive and dunk his big man had in the semifinal contest with Warren at the 82nd annual Pontiac Holiday Tournament.
The dunk and ensuing 3-point play turned out to be a backbreaker for Warren as the third-seeded Blackhawks upended the Blue Devils 49-44 for their first trip to the finals in the oldest holiday tournament in Illinois since 2003.
West Aurora earned a spot against two-time tournament defending champion and nationally ranked Simeon in the championship game. It's the Blackhawks' first title game appearance since 1990.
Warren advanced to the third-place game against Curie. The Devils lost to the Condors in triple overtime a year ago in the third-place game.
"I wish we would have found (Mcauley) a little more," Kerkman said with a laugh. "He's had a real good tournament and a real good year for us. He may not have been as intimidating as he has been before, but he still played real well for us tonight."
The Blackhawks built a lead to as big as 37-26 late in the third quarter before the red-hot shooting of Aarias Austin started to make a difference in favor of the Blue Devils.
Austin scored all but 2 of the Devils' points in the third quarter and finished with 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half. His red-hot shooting from behind the 3-point line included hitting 6 of 9 from deep. That singlehandedly kept the game close for Warren.
"Without (Aarias) we get beat by a lot tonight," said Warren coach Ryan Webber. "He shot the ball real well for us and he was a competitor today, no question."
Austin's hot shooting sparked a 16-5 run that brought Warren even with the Blackhawks at 42 with 3:02 left.
"With the way (Austin) was shooting, you never knew if he was going to miss again," Kerkman said. "He really filled it up and was tough on us."
West Aurora answered with an exclamation point. Following a Blackhawks timeout, Mcauley was isolated with two Warren defenders right of the lane. He powered dribbled through the lane and by Warren senior Mitch Cygan for a dunk and ensuing 3-point play. The bucket put the Blackhawks up 45-42 with 2:45 left, and Warren wasn't able to respond.
"I am used to handling the ball, and I saw they were overplaying me there," said Mcauley, who led the Blackhawks with 20 points and 12 rebounds. "I put it on the floor and went up for the dunk from there."
Austin and the Devils tried their best to answer, but a pair of turnovers on 3 of their final 4 possessions sealed the outcome.
"Coach challenges us and we always answer," Austin said. "But in the end, we fell apart a little bit."
Spencer Thomas added 14 points and 5 boards for the Blackhawks. James Betori and Adrian Deere chipped in with 9 points each for Warren.
• In the third-place game against Curie, Warren was held to 5 points in the first quarter and fell 53-45 despite a 20-point outburst in the final period.
Austin led the way with 15 points, 3 assists and 3 steals for Warren (8-7) but was the only scorer in double figures for the Blue Devils, who shot 4-for-21 from 3-point range.
Curie managed to make five 3s and shot 17-for-25 on 2-point attempts.
Simeon claimed the championship with a 60-47 victory over West Aurora (10-2).