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Geneva's chase defense has been known to take the opponent's leading scorer and make him a nonfactor, and Pace Temple and Chris Parrilli were on the job Friday night at the Class 4A Wheaton Warrenville South regional championship against West Aurora's Jontrel Walker.
While the Vikings did hold Walker to 7 points, the junior guard chipped in 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocked shots and 3 rebounds. He assisted on a basket by Spencer Thomas and a dunk by Josh McAuley that helped West Aurora finally break free from the feisty Vikings late in the fourth quarter, and the Blackhawks did the rest of their damage at the free-throw line making their final 9 attempts for a 45-37 victory.
No. 4 seed West Aurora (22-6) advances to play No. 1 Oswego (28-2) at 7:30 p.m. in the Class 4A Bolingbrook sectional semifinals. It's a rematch of last year's regional final the Blackhawks won on their way to the supersectional.
"It was frustrating but we expected it," Walker said. "We did our scouting. We knew they were going to the box-and-one, but I just really wanted to make sure I was still in the game making plays happen. I didn't want them to take me completely out of the game, I wanted to keep moving, do things on defense, do other things besides score. I wanted to be the leader of the team and that's what I did."
Twelfth-seeded Geneva (21-9), looking for its first regional championship since 1986, succeeded in getting the game played at its tempo. West Aurora led 8-7 after one quarter, 14-12 at halftime and 22-21 after three quarters before the Blackhawks scored more points in the fourth — 23 — than the first three quarters combined.
"We didn't really think about the tempo," McAuley said. "We knew we'd like to get it in our tempo but if we can't we just have to roll with it."
The final margin wasn't indicative of how tight the game was. The teams traded the lead 12 times and the game was tied 7 times. Over a stretch from the late second quarter to midway through the fourth, 14 of 15 times the teams scored the points either tied the game or changed the lead.
Geneva looked to be in perfect position for the upset early in the fourth quarter when Walker went to the bench with 7:01 left with his fourth foul. Earlier in the third quarter he and Parrilli received double technical fouls after getting tangled up in what was a physical, tense, hard-fought game.
Parrilli assisted a cutting Connor Chapman for a basket and a 25-24 Geneva lead, but that proved to be the last good Vikings possession over a game-deciding four-minute stretch.
On the Vikings' next eight trips, they turned the ball over five times, missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Nate Navigato missed an off-balanced shot that he had to shoot left-handed to get over McAuley, and the only basket came on Temple's breakaway layup.
West Aurora turned the 25-24 deficit into a 34-27 lead, with Chandler Thomas following a miss from his brother Spencer to put West Aurora ahead to stay. Sophomore Matt Dunn, subbing for Walker in foul trouble, hit his second big basket of the second half, then Walker returned for his back-to-back assists.
Suddenly that 7-point lead felt like 15 on this night when Geneva made only 12 of 36 field goal attempts and 4 of 13 3-pointers. On the same court 24 hours earlier they burned Hinsdale Central for 8-of-14 shooting on 3s.
And on a night the Vikings handled West Aurora's pressure pretty well overall with 12 turnovers, five of them came at the worst possible time.
"We're a team that does much better with maybe being a one-possession game or a lead than a team that's trying to chase two or three possessions down," Geneva coach Phil Ralston said. "We had to do some things that were a little out of our comfort zone and didn't execute some of those sets like we should."
McAuley went 5-for-5 and Jayquan Lee 4-for-4 at the line in the final two minutes to keep a safe distance even as Parrilli sank a 3-pointer and putback for Geneva.
"I think they might have been a little tired from yesterday," West Aurora coach Gordie Kerkman said of Geneva. "They run a lot of good offense, we just wanted to pressure them a little bit so it was tough for them on their cuts. They do an awful lot of picking, back-picking, cross screens, we wanted to try to take those away as much as possible and I think we did."
The Vikings didn't use the schedule of playing back-to-back nights as an excuse.
"I think we were fine. It was a little tough, we didn't get all the preparation in we maybe needed to but stuff happens and you have to adjust," said Chapman who had high praise for his opponent, McAuley.
"He was really good. He had a nice midrange game and he could take it to the hoop. It's fun to play against those top-tier guys in the area."
McAuley led all players with 18 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks and also guarded Geneva's leading scorer Navigato all game holding the sophomore standout to 5 points.
"Very good defense," Kerkman said. "He (Navigato) did not get very many good looks and really didn't get his hands on the ball too much either."
Parrilli led Geneva with 11 points, and Mike Trimble, Navigato and KJ Santos all scored 5. The Vikings improved their win total by six games this season, and they will return a young core that accounted for 30 of their 37 points Friday.
"It was awesome, I had so much fun this season mostly thanks to my teammates," Chapman said. "It was a great season for us."
"A couple key possessions would have gone our way, it might have been a different outcome, we might have been the ones shooting free throws at the end. We felt if we took Walker out of the game we would have a chance to win it and we did," Ralston said.
"Our kids battled tonight. They put their heart and soul on the line. I told them before the game it's like you are at the casino and they just gave you a pile of chips. Go out and play your game and have fun. And I thought we did a nice job of that."
Follow John Lemon on Twitter @jlemonDH