A 3-point basket from Wheaton Academy at the third-quarter buzzer tied Friday's Class 3A Genoa-Kingston regional championship at 45, but the Warriors could not get over the final hurdle of their season.
Sycamore went 16 of 16 from the free-throw line, 8 for 8 in the fourth quarter, to clinch its first regional championship since 2004 with a 59-56 win over Wheaton Academy on Friday night.
In a back-and-forth contest in which neither team led by more than 8 points, the Warriors (20-9) were in a position to take the lead several times in the fourth quarter but had trouble with shots not falling and the ball not bouncing their way.
"We had some untimely turnovers, missed some 50-50 balls that we would have liked to come up with, not from a lack of energy or heart, but you just hope you get one or two to keep a possession alive," first-year Warriors coach Pete Froedden said. "That's going to happen in these kinds of games. Everybody is fighting; you know it's going to go down to the wire. It's who's going to get a loose ball, or a big rebound or make a big shot, and you just have to make one more."
After the Josh Ruggles 3 at the buzzer, Wheaton Academy could not capitalize on the momentum, failing to score until almost three minutes had passed in the fourth.
A quick 3 from the Spartans' Nicholas Feuerbach to open the quarter gave them back the lead until a steal and quick score by Chris Johnson snapped the dry spell, getting the Warriors to within one.
Another Feuerbach 3 gave Sycamore (22-7) a 4-point lead and the Warriors got no closer until another last-second 3-pointer from Ruggles.
"We have eight or nine seniors, returning guys, so we have a lot of experience. We bent a little bit, but we didn't break," Spartans coach Andrew Stacy said.
Wheaton Academy led for most of the first quarter, in part thanks to Ruggles and Gordon Behr, who both finished with 16 points. But Wheaton Academy found itself trailing by one going into the second due to four Spartans 3-pointers, including 3 by Copper Vinz.
Again the Warriors fought back to take over the lead 28-27 with less than 30 seconds before the half, with Johnson and Behr hitting back-to-back 3s. Devin Mottet finished the night with 16 points, and it was his three-point play 14 seconds before halftime that gave the Spartans a 30-28 lead at the break.
Sycamore never trailed after halftime and will face Marian Central in the Hampshire sectional semifinals.
"I can't be more proud of our guys. There wasn't a possession that we took off. We fought every possession," Froedden said. "That's just basketball. You have two good teams fighting to win a championship, that's the kind of game you end up with."