The seniors on Neuqua Valley finally got that elusive regional championship Friday night.
But not before having to survive one final special night from Waubonsie Valley senior Jared Brownridge.
The Wildcats prevailed 69-61 in the regional final at Oswego East and will take on Benet at the Bolingbrook sectional next Wednesday.
Neuqua Valley (28-2) jumped ahead 8-0 and then used a 16-0 run to break a 31-31 tie in the third quarter, but Brownridge and his 33 points always kept the sixth-seeded Warriors within striking distance.
After three straight years of heartbreaking losses in regional play, Neuqua Valley got it done Friday, due in large part to a pair of seniors. Jabari Sandifer busted out for 20 of his 22 points in the second half and center Pat Kenny had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
"The regional title is the hardest game because you are so familiar with each other. Nobody knows Waubonsie better than us and no one knows Neuqua like Waubonsie does," Wildcats coach Todd Sutton said. "It's just a battle."
After a pair of overtime losses and a two-point loss in the last three regionals, Sutton was happy to see his seniors take home the title this time around.
"This is one of those things for Pat Kenny, Darien Miskel and Jabari Sandifer who have had to deal with me for three years," he said. "One-hundred eighty-plus practices and about 91 games they've had to deal with me. They need a reward."
It was sweet indeed for Sandifer, who had just two free throws after two quarters as the Wildcats clung to a 29-25 lead. In the third quarter Sandifer sparked that big run that turned the game in favor of Neuqua by scoring 7 points in a two-minute span that also included a 3-pointer from Brad Mikulecky.
Sandifer then added his second and third 3s on the night while scoring 13 more points in the final quarter as the Wildcats held off Brownridge and the Warriors.
"It feels great," Sandifer said. "Since sophomore year I've been trying to get one of these."
An emotional Waubonsie Valley coach Steve Weemer had nothing but praise for his team's effort and for the way his team has played since the calendar year turned.
The 21-8 Warriors entered the regional final with 12 wins in the last 13 games, and the lone setback was a three-point loss to Neuqua.
"We played well, we played hard and we played a great team," he said. "I'm proud of our guys and my seniors I can't say enough about. Not only are they great basketball players but they're great kids."
Bryan Jefferson closed out his senior season with 16 points and 13 rebounds, and fellow senior Javares Stewart was a force down low with 9 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Brownridge, the school's second all-time leading scorer, fought back his emotions after the tough loss.
"It was fun playing with all my teammates," he said. "The seniors, Bryan, Tavares and Dylan (Warden) all played hard tonight, but they (Wildcats) are a good team."