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The three Larkin practices prior to Wednesday's Class 4A regional semifinal showdown against rival Elgin more closely resembled preseason tryouts than postseason preparation.
At a time when most boys basketball programs are conserving energy and protecting against injuries in hopes of a deep playoff run, Larkin coach Deryn Carter and staff turned the Royals loose -- on each other -- in an attempt to awaken their inner beasts after two stinging losses against Neuqua Valley.
The result was a convincing 74-52 victory in the 21st postseason game played between the city of Elgin's public high schools. Top seeded Larkin bolted to a 24-11 advantage through one quarter and ballooned its lead as high as 34 points early in the fourth quarter to complete a 4-game season sweep of No. 4 Elgin at South Elgin High School.
"If you had walked into our practice, you would have no idea we had a regional game coming up," Carter said. "Some coaches would probably call me crazy because we were banging bodies and we were competing. But I think it showed when we came out tonight."
Playing without 6-foot-6 starting forward/center Drew Jones (hyperextended knee), the Royals didn't miss a beat with a starting lineup consisting of four guards. Junior Derrick Streety, normally Larkin's sixth-man extraordinaire, not only started but starred. He scored 10 of his game-high 21 points in the first half to help the Royals build a 42-21 halftime lead.
"We wanted to extend it as far as we could," Streety, who shot 8 of 10, said of the early lead. "We didn't want them to come back. We didn't want them to make any runs. We wanted to get up right away."
Larkin (22-5) enjoyed solid contributions from all four starting guards and junior forward Brayden Royse. Beyond Streety, senior Quantice Hunter scored 18 points to go with 5 rebounds and 2 steals, senior Quentin Ruff finished with 9 points and 5 rebounds and junior Kendale McCullum finished with 6 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Royse added 7 points and 4 rebounds.
"It's never been that (Elgin and Larkin) played each other four times and one team won four times," Hunter said. "We were looking at that, too, because we wanted to make history."
Elgin scored first on a 3-pointer by Upstate Eight River Player of the Year Arie Williams, but the fourth-year guard was limited to 6 points through the first three quarters and finished his final high school game with 15 points on 3-of-16 shooting.
"We missed on a lot of little things, got down early and couldn't hit a shot at the other end," Williams said. "It wasn't our night. It just wasn't our night."
McCullum, an all UEC River selection himself, was the primary defender against Williams, but he had help.
"We tried to put Arie in a crowd and we did a good job of that, making him shoot over three or four hands and make other players make plays," McCullum said.
Elgin (14-14) shot 8 of 24 from the field in the first half. It wasn't enough to keep pace with Larkin's 16-of-26 performance, which benefitted from multiple fast-break baskets resulting from 11 first-half turnovers by the Maroons.
"We picked a bad time to play probably our worst game of the year," Elgin coach Mike Sitter said. "We rushed ourselves when we wanted to take our time. When we wanted to be aggressive we kind of laid back and got tentative. And to Larkin's credit, they took us out of what we wanted to do offensively and defensively. There wasn't one phase of the game where we did well today."
The victory advances Larkin to Friday's regional title game against No. 3 St. Charles North (17-10), which defeated No. 2 St. Charles East 69-53 in the second semifinal at South Elgin. The Royals swept two meetings from the North Stars during the regular season, winning 61-48 in St. Charles on Dec. 7 and 76-56 on Jan. 26 in Elgin.
"It should be very interesting," McCullum said. "I can't wait to play Friday. I don't even want to practice. I just want to go straight to the game and play."