Second-seeded Lakes had a hard time breaking free from No. 15 Grayslake Central on Wednesday night at the Class 3A Vernon Hills regional.
But when all was said and done, the Eagles pulled away from the pesky Rams en route to a 72-54 victory in the semifinals.
Lakes (23-6) will face Wauconda in the championship game Friday night at 7:30 p.m. Grayslake Central closed out the season with a 5-23 record.
A 3-pointer by Lakes' Andrew Spencer staked the Eagles to an early 18-8 lead before 2 free throws by teammate Troy Swindle put the Rams behind 32-17 late in the first half.
But three-year varsity player Danny Reed got an inside basket and scored off a steal with only four seconds left in the second quarter to cut the gap to 32-21 at halftime.
The Rams continued that momentum with an outside shot by Alex Lennartz to open the third quarter. Senior Jack Spicer's inside hoop capped Grayslake Central's 12-4 run to cut the gap to 36-29 early in the period.
After a 3-point play by Lakes' Direll Clark, a 3-pointer by sophomore Joey Mudd kept the Rams close at 39-32.
But that was basically the end of the road for Central as numerous turnovers in a short span led to an 11-2 Lakes run and the Eagles' biggest lead at 50-34 with 1:48 left in the third quarter.
The big surge included a 3-pointer and an inside basket by senior Justin Bergeron, a dunk off a turnover by Spencer and a two-handed dunk off a turnover by the 5-foot-11 Clark to steal the show.
Bergeron had a huge game with 15 of his 26 points in the second half while teammates Jake Kohler (12 points) and Spencer (11 points) also reached double figures in scoring.
"We definitely came together as a team," said Bergeron, who was also a major force rebounding. "They (Central) finished the half strong and our defense helped turn it around."
Before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter, Reed (team-high 15 points) kept the Rams' slim hopes alive as his second 3-pointer cut the lead to 58-48 with 6:16 to play.
But Lakes was too strong down the stretch behind Bergeron, Swindle (7 points), and Clark (7 points) getting the job done.
"It took us awhile to get going, and in the third quarter our guys did a good job of responding and playing with more intensity at the defensive end," said Lakes coach Chris Snyder, whose team forced 6 turnovers in the third quarter. "Justin (Bergeron) has been one of our hardest working kids for three years now and we know he's going to be there when we need him."
Besides Reed, Lennartz (12 points), and Mudd (11 points) also hit double digits scoring. Spicer also chipped in 8 points for the Rams.
"They (Lakes) picked up the pressure and they took it to us in about a two and a half to three minute stretch," said Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe, whose team had 15 turnovers. "We gave them a run for their money and they're a good team. The last two years we've lost to a team that went downstate in North Chicago, so hopefully they (Lakes) can make it three in a row."
The Eagles will be shooting for their second straight regional crown Friday.
"We're happy for the opportunity to play for the regional championship again," said Snyder, whose team won the first regional title in school history last year. "Three (players) were starters last year and that experience helps, especially at this time of year."