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Article updated: 3/5/2014 11:01 PM
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Neuqua falters down the stretch
 

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Neuqua falters down the stretch
  • Neuqua Valley’s Connor Raridon works to get clear of a shot against Plainfield North during the boys basketball Class 4A West Aurora regional semifinal game Wednesday, March 5.

    Purchase Photo | Neuqua Valley’s Connor Raridon works to get clear of a shot against Plainfield North during the boys basketball Class 4A West Aurora regional semifinal game Wednesday, March 5. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Neuqua Valley appeared comfortably on its way to a 14th consecutive boys basketball regional final Wednesday night in Aurora.

Leading Plainfield North by 13 points with less than six minutes remaining, the Wildcats were on the wrong side of a stunning comeback.

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Jake Nowak snared a loose ball off a desperation airball 3-pointer while out of bounds and had the presence of mind to throw a blind pass.

The ball landed in the hands of teammate Cody Conway, who arched a 4-foot shot from the left baseline as time expired at the Class 4A West Aurora semifinal.

The ball hit the east and west sides of the rim, only to nestle in to give the Tigers a wildly improbable 48-46 victory.

The depth of the East Aurora sectional was abundantly revealed in the matchup between 20-game winners as the No. 11 Tigers (21-7) advance to face host West Aurora on Friday.

The sixth-seeded Wildcats had their season close at 20-9.

"I saw the shot go up and noticed it was short," Nowak said of his out-of-bounds save from underneath the basket. "We always do the same save drills in practice. I just jumped up and chucked it back. It was a prayer."

Conway answered the Nowak request with his fifth inside score of the game to conclude an 18-3 game-closing run by Plainfield North.

Neuqua Valley led 43-30 after a Zach Incaudo layup two minutes into the third quarter.

Both teams were barely above converting one-third of their field-goal attempts for the game, but Trevor Stumpe got hot at the an opportune moment for Plainfield North.

Playing the entire fourth quarter with four fouls, the Tigers' star guard scored 14 of his game-high 18 points in the last eight minutes.

Plainfield North scored 16 unanswered points to seize a 46-43 lead with 70 seconds remaining.

But the Wildcats' Elijah Robertson hit a baseline-left 3-pointer to tie the game at 46-46 with 51 seconds to play.

Robertson appeared to be the Wildcats' MVP of the game after his brilliant defensive play in the third quarter.

Blocking three Plainfield North shots in spectacular fashion to ignite fast breaks, Robertson had a team-high 13 points.

"That (defensive intensity) came from how I played in the first half," Robertson said. "I thought I didn't show up (in the opening half)."

"Our defense was stinking," Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton said. "Those blocks got us in transition. We got good blocks out of his blocks."

Neuqua Valley missed its first 7 shots from the field but still managed a 22-16 lead at the halftime.

Robertson, Incaudo, Josh Piotrowski and Samuel Franklin had their Neuqua Valley senior seasons conclude.

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