As much time as Geneva spent A) in the lead, and B) at the foul line during Wednesday night's Class 4A Plainfield East regional semifinal, it sure helps to be as good at making free throws as the Vikings are.
Geneva hit its free throws at a 68-percent clip this year, and it was significantly better against host Plainfield East, making 23 of 28 (82 percent).
The Vikings needed nearly every one as the Bengals cut Geneva's 11-point fourth quarter lead to 1. But Geneva dodged one shot that could have given Plainfield East the lead and another that would have tied the game to hold on for a 64-58 win.
"We have kids who can shoot them and that helps," Geneva coach Phil Ralston said.
Ironically, the kid who shoots them best, junior Nate Navigato at 87 percent, never got to the line, though he did plenty of damage with 18 points and four 3-pointers.
Cam Cook led the way going 8 for 8, Pace Temple hit 4 of 5 and Chris Parrilli 9 of 12.
"We shoot a ton of free throws in practice so when it comes down to it I think we are prepared to shoot them in the game," Cook said.
No. 6 seed Geneva (23-5) will return to Plainfield East on Friday to play No. 3 Bolingbrook (21-5) looking for their first regional championship since 1986.
"Our whole season's goal is to win a regional," Cook said. "We have fought all year for this and I think we are ready for it and I think we can get a ‘W.'"
No. 10 seed Plainfield East (19-10) features junior Aaron Jordan, an Illinois commit.
Geneva is always ready for a star player with its chase defense. Pace Temple started out on Jordan and Daniel Santacaterina helped off the bench.
The Vikings caught a break when Jordan picked up his second foul early in the second quarter and missed the final seven minutes of the first half. Geneva scored the game's first 7 points and led 12-7 after one quarter and 27-25 at halftime with Nick Novak (23 points) keeping Plainfield East close with three 3-pointers.
The intensity picked up a notch in the second half. Geneva's lead fluctuated between 2 and 7 points in the third quarter, ending up 44-40 on Parrilli's putback at the buzzer.
The Vikings looked like they were finally shaking Plainfield East midway through the fourth. Navigato opened with a corner 3-pointer, and Cook scored the next 9 Geneva points, ending his run with a 3-point basket for their biggest lead of the night at 56-45.
The Bengals scored 9 quick points capped by Jordan's steal and two-hand slam in transition to pull within 56-54 with 3:29 left.
The Vikings turned the ball over three times in that stretch and had six in the quarter.
"We were getting nervous a little, the momentum was swinging their way, but the seniors stepped up, Chris stepped up, Nate is a junior and he stepped up, I think I stepped up as well, really controlled the tempo of the game," Cook said.
Leading 58-56, Geneva again turned the ball over, but Novak missed a 3 that could have put the Bengals ahead for the first time.
After Parrilli split free throws, Jordan made a pair to trim Geneva's lead to 59-58 with 38 seconds left.
Parrilli made two free throws for a 3-point lead, and Jordan's contested 3 was well off the mark. Parrilli and Cook sealed the win with 3 more free throws in the final 20 seconds.
"I thought there were stretches there we let them have too many runs, but by and large when they did make the runs our kids had the composure to settle themselves down," Ralston said. "Plainfield East did a great job capitalizing on our mistakes and we definitely had some big mistakes that left the door open. I liked how our kids handled their business especially when things got tight."
Jordan finished with 14 points, making 5 of 8 shots from the field.
Geneva won the rebounding battle 24-14 led by Loudon Vollbrecht's 8.
"We knew they were going to crash the glass," Bengals coach Branden Adkins said. "They are a scrappy team, they are a good team. They knocked down shots. Navigato is a heck of a player, 11 (Cook) is a very good player. Every 50-50 situation when we really needed it they came up with it. Postseason is about rebounds, it's about free throws, it's about defensive stops and they did all of those tonight."
Cook (15 points), Parrilli (11), Temple (8) and Mike Landi (7) followed Navigato's team-high 18.
"We've battled adversity and we've had a lot of success," Ralston said. "The last time a Geneva team had more than 22 wins was 50 years ago when they went downstate. I told our guys no matter what happens on Friday they have already achieved far more than most people would have given us credit for. They have handled their business this season tremendously."