Little by little, the Palatine boys basketball team is gaining a winning identity.
Thursday night's 53-48 win over a rugged McHenry team helped solidify it.
The Pirates' three-game win streak now has them at 5-5 for the season. The victory also pits them against Elk Grove in second-round championship bracket play Friday in the 40th annual Jack Tosh Tournament at York High School in Elmhurst.
"We gave up a 9-point halftime lead (31-22) in the third quarter," said Palatine coach Eric Millstone. "I wanted to see how we would handle ourselves when that happened. You don't want to see a lead like that get whittled, away but I wanted to see who would step up."
Millstone's answer was all of the Pirates, in one way or another.
Chris Macahon, who scored 19 points, pulled down 6 rebounds and dished out 6 assists, was one. Matt Ulrich (7 points), Scott Fife (9 points), R J Smith (6 points), and Dondre Watson (8 points) all played key roles. And the Pirates' bench came up with 23 points to aid the cause.
"When Chris plays like he did tonight," said Millstone, "we're a very good team. He played a very good game and kept us in it early."
A basket by Fife gave Palatine the lead at 42-41 for good at 6:54. Ulrich followed with a basket and a 3-pointer for a 47-41 lead with 4:02 left.
Kyle Postal (16 points) led the 6-3 Warriors on a 7-2 run, scoring all of McHenry's points in it to cut the lead to 49-48 with 1:21 remaining.
Macahon calmly hit 2 free throws for a 51-48 lead with :33 left.
"We were resilient tonight," said Macahon. "We took some punches from them but we never gave up. Early in the year we struggled on offense. But now the defense is helping create offense. We're sharing the ball and finding the open man."
Palatine played smart defense with 4 fouls to give, taking McHenry out of its offense.
Ulrich deflected a pass with :09 left and the Pirates' Kyle Leber fell on the ball and called a time out.
Fife was fouled and hit 2 free throws with :07 left for the final score.
"I knew they were going to try for the ball and were swinging the ball looking for a shot," said Ulrich. "I got in the way of one of the passes and tipped the ball. We've been playing well. We've been playing unselfish and it's helped elevate every ones game."
"We had our chances," said McHenry coach Tim Paddock. "We went through stretches in the second and fourth quarter where we didn't score. We had some good looks down the stretch but we couldn't score. Palatine came up with big plays and we didn't."
Greg Johnson of McHenry shared in top scoring honors with 16 points and added 9 rebounds. McHenry made nine 3's but shot 18 of 44 from the field overall.