Great timing for Waubonsie Valley's student cheering section to go with a pajama theme. Their boys made a dream come true.
Snapping a five-game losing streak to archrival Neuqua Valley while dealing the Wildcats their first loss in the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division, the host Warriors forced 16 turnovers and went 16 for 16 from the foul line, 6 for 6 in overtime, to win 60-56 in Aurora.
"Best crowd all year," said Waubonsie's Jay DeHaan, whose 2 free throws with 5.8 seconds left in overtime were the winning points. The pajama-clad fans greeted each point with an earsplitting shriek as if they just landed front-row for Kendrick Lamar.
"I couldn't show any fear. I'm the senior, I had to be the leader at the time, I had to step up and that's what I did," DeHaan said.
He and fellow seniors Nick Karkazis, Jack Cordes and Matt Gialamas hadn't beaten Neuqua in a varsity game until Friday.
Neuqua Valley (16-6, 8-1) took time after DeHaan stepped up. Then from the far baseline Zach Incaudo threw a low baseball pass just over half-court to guard Demond George. Karkazis hassled George until the ball went out of bounds, possession Waubonsie.
Karkazis was then fouled, made two free throws of his own and came up with a final steal, his fourth to go with a game-high 24 points. DeHaan scored 20; Elijah Robertson led Neuqua with 15 followed by Josh Piotrowski with 12, George with 10.
"They played a great game," said Waubonsie Valley coach Chaz Taft, whose Warriors (14-7, 6-3) won for the ninth time in 10 games and pulled within 15-16 all-time in rivalry. "My hat's off to Neuqua because they played a great game, too. It was a good District 204 game, and the crowd was outstanding for both teams."
With his two predecessors in the stands, former Waubonsie coaches Steve Weemer and Dave Saurbaugh, Taft had to be proud with his team's crunchtime execution.
Neuqua's Connor Raridon hit a free throw to tie the score 51-51 with 1:35 left in regulation time, Waubonsie wove the ball up top until Taft took time with 10.1 seconds left. Waubonsie got the shot it wanted, a Cordes 3 try from the right wing.
That didn't fall but later, after Neuqua's Jacob Eminger went up-and-under for a 56-56 tie with 57 seconds left in overtime, Waubonsie again ran clock until it was time to strike.
"We have a walk-through before the game for an hour, we go do plays. That's why we do it, so we execute right. And we won the game," said Karkazis, who believed his junior brother, Chris, was player of the game for limiting Raridon to 4 points before the Neuqua junior fouled out with 3:28 left in overtime.
Nineteen lead changes and 13 ties indicated the game Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton expected, and got. He said Waubonsie "executed to perfection"; the Warriors' 7 turnovers to Neuqua's 16 was a factor.
"Our field-goal percentage was good, our free throw percentage was good, our 3-point percentage was OK," Sutton said. "But we turned it over 16 times and that's a lot of shots in a close game. If we get one or two more shots we're in pretty good shape."