Senior guard Mike Kjeldsen just recently worked his way into the starting lineup for the Glenbard East boys basketball team.
He and the Rams enjoyed quite a finish Friday in Lombard.
Kjeldsen hit two key baskets in the final three minutes and contributed to a last-second steal as the Rams upset West Aurora 58-56 in the showdown for first place at the halfway point of the DuPage Valley Conference race.
"That felt great. So far, that was the game of the season for us," said Kjeldsen, one of three Rams to score in double figures. "West Aurora, of course, is always great in our conference, so we came out here and gave them everything we had."
After reserve Danny Ryan made 1 of 2 free throws for the Rams (11-5, 7-0) with 9.4 seconds left, Jontrel Walker somehow drove through a congested lane and put up a shot for the Blackhawks (13-3, 6-1) that would have forced overtime but went off the inside of the rim as time expired.
The Rams' Tahron Harvey and Walker both had phenomenal games, especially in the first half, before others like Kjeldsen stepped up in the final moments. Harvey scored 24 points, Walker adding 22.
"That was a great win for us and our program. I was so proud of our guys. I thought we just fought, fought, fought and it was just a great game," Glenbard East coach Scott Miller said. "We knew it was going to be a dogfight coming down to the end, and we were fortunate to make the last play, basically."
Glenbard East saw a 10-point lead late in the third quarter evaporate and had two starters foul out. Right after Walker put the Blackhawks ahead for the first time in the second half at 54-53 with 1:31 left, Kjeldsen took a pass from Jaron Hall and sank a 3 for a 56-54 Rams' lead with 1:09 to go.
After Hall split two free throws with 28.1 seconds, West Aurora trailed 57-56 and went for the win. As the Blackhawks hoped to get Walker a shot, Kjeldsen deflected a pass to the top corner of the lane, and Ryan recovered and was fouled immediately.
"We just didn't make a good pass," West Aurora coach Gordie Kerkman said. "I think he was open, but we didn't pass it through the defensive man that was guarding the ball."
Harvey had 16 of the Rams' 22 second-quarter points to turn an early 10-2 deficit into a 34-30 halftime lead. Harvey was 5-of-7 shooting in the period with two 3s and two free throws.
"The first shot, I felt good. The heat check was on so I just kept on flying," Harvey said.
"I was so consumed at halftime with Walker, I had no idea he had 19," Miller said.
Walker had 16 points in the first half and six in the fourth quarter, along with 6-foot-7 Josh McAuley. Hall and Kjeldsen were the Rams' leading scorers in the second half.
Down 47-37, West Aurora scored the last basket of the third quarter and the first four of the fourth quarter, the final three by McAuley, for a 47-47 tie with 5:10 to play.
"I (had) called a timeout and said, 'We're playing their game, and if it continues it's going to be a blowout,' " Kerkman said. "We got settled down a bit and got into some offense where we made them play defense, got aggressive on defense and forced a few turnovers."
The Rams won back-to-back DVC championships in 2010 and 2011. In last season's DVC finale, they beat West Aurora in Lombard to cost the Blackhawks a share of the title with Naperville North.
They will meet again in this season's DVC finale, but in Aurora Feb. 22.
"It felt good last year, spoiling it for them, but this year, now that we're in first and we can win conference, that feels even better," Kjeldsen said. "Still, a long ways (to go)."