St. Charles North's basketball team will gladly take its season split with cross-town rival St. Charles East.
After dropping 2 of 3 regular-season games to the Saints, the North Stars (18-10) earned a postseason victory in their all-important fourth meeting of the 2012-13 campaign Wednesday night.
Senior Quinten Payne scored a game-high 26 points while 6-6 senior forward Justin Stanko added a double-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocked shots during the North Stars' convincing 69-53 win over the Saints (15-12) in the Class 4A South Elgin regional semifinals.
Stanko, who scored a career-high 17 points in the North Stars' 73-52 preliminary round win over South Elgin Monday night, turned in another superb playoff effort and provided an early spark.
In addition to scoring the game's first 2 baskets, Stanko also did his job at the other end of the court with a pair of blocked shots during the first 3 minutes of the opening quarter.
"It's definitely a motivation thing for me and it also motivates my team," Stanko said of getting involved early. "If we start out strong, we tend to finish strong and that's what matters the most.
"It's the playoffs and I have a different mindset coming into it," added Stanko. "I'm a senior and I don't want my year to end -- and I don't want my other teammates' years to end."
St. Charles North, which led 12-9 after one quarter, used a 9-0 run over the early portion of the second period to help provide some separation.
Erik Miller's steal and layup extended the North Stars' lead to 25-13 midway through the second quarter, and Jack Callaghan's driving baseline basket with 15 seconds left in the period gave St. Charles North a 32-21 halftime advantage.
While Payne and Stanko combined for 20 first-half points, the North Stars' bench also outscored St. Charles East's reserves, 9-0, during the first 16 minutes.
"Sometimes, Coach (Rob) Prentiss and I will single a kid out for an outstanding performance but I feel I could single out everybody I put in the game tonight," said North Stars coach Tom Poulin. "I really thought everybody we put in there was trying to do the right things."
The North Stars stretched their lead to as many as 19 at 42-23 with a 10-2 surge in the first 5 minutes of the third quarter and still led 49-33 heading into the final period.
St. Charles East, which struggled shooting throughout the game (17 of 52 from the field), drew within 56-43 on a 3-pointer by sophomore Jake Asquini (11 points) with 3:49 left.
But the North Stars converted 13 of 15 fourth-quarter free throws to pull away. Kyle Swanson had 9 points and sophomore Jake Ludwig added 8, including a 3-pointer early in the final period, for the victors.
"Jake came in and gave us great minutes," Poulin said of Ludwig. "He showed great composure for a sophomore point guard."
"It was a great win for us," said Payne, who had 15 second-half points. "Everybody contributed. Jake (Ludwig) hit a huge 3-pointer, Tony (Neari) and Kyle (Swanson) played great defense, and I think one of our biggest game changers was Stanko."
Dom Adduci led the Saints with 15 points, while sophomore Cole Gentry added 9.
"It was not our night," said Saints coach Patrick Woods. "But credit them (the North Stars). Payne was a beast as always, Stanko had a good night and they had a lot of guys chip in. They played really well together as a team."
With the win, the North Stars advance to Friday's regional championship clash with top-seeded Larkin (22-5), which knocked off Elgin 74-52 in Wednesday's other semifinal.
Larkin handed the North Stars a pair of regular-season, double-digit defeats.
"We have probably played 16 minutes of good basketball against Larkin this year," said Poulin. "And that's because of them. We'll have our hands full. We have to go out there and compete with the same heart that we've been showing."