With a starting lineup featuring 3 sophomores, the future appears to be bright for South Elgin's basketball team.
The future is also now.
The fourth-seeded Storm (17-14) followed Tuesday's Class 4A regional semifinal upset victory over top-seeded Larkin with a 76-62 win over third-seeded St. Charles East in Friday night's regional championship at St. Charles North.
Trailing 54-49 late in the third quarter, the Storm scored 10 unanswered points to grab a 59-54 lead with 5:18 remaining.
The run included an inside basket by 6-8 sophomore center Tyler Hankins (8 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocked shots), a steal and layup from senior guard Darius Wells (13 points, 5 steals) and an offensive rebound bucket by sophomore Jake Amrhein (9 points, 8 rebounds).
After the Saints' Jake Clodi connected on a 3-pointer from the corner to trim the deficit to 59-57, the Storm responded with an 8-0 run fueled by a 3-pointer from senior guard Matt McClure (19 points, 5 steals) to extend the lead to 67-57 with 2:36 remaining.
Sophomore guard Matt Smith, who poured in a game-high 26 points on 8 of 11 shooting from the field, applied the finishing touch with a coldblooded 3-pointer with 1:36 left.
"It was a great game and it was a great team effort," said Smith, who also made 7 of 8 free throws as part of South Elgin's 24-5 advantage at the foul line. "We did a great job getting to the line and most importantly we did a great job converting at the free-throw line. That was huge for us."
"He's a good player," Saints coach Patrick Woods said of Smith. "He got to the basket and kind of had his way with us."
Leading 35-31 at halftime, St. Charles East (18-12) extended its lead to 8 at 43-35 on a 3-pointer from senior guard Dom Adduci with 6:03 left in the third quarter.
However, South Elgin did not flinch.
After a 3-pointer from Wells, Smith scored 5 consecutive points to tie the game at 45-45.
"Coach (Matt Petersen) just told us to keep attacking and keep believing in the offense," said Smith. "We did that and things turned around."
"We always fight back," said McClure. "We've had a lot of games where we've gotten down but we keep fighting back. I think we're starting to show people that we can actually make a run (in the tournament)."
After capturing its second regional title in 4 years, South Elgin advances to Wednesday's Elgin sectional semifinals against Jacobs.
"They all believe that every time they step onto the floor that they're going to make something good happen," said first-year head coach Petersen. "The belief that these kids gave to our system and the trust in each other has been incredible."
South Elgin, which outscored St. Charles East 25-8 in the fourth quarter, entered the week with a .500 record.
"We talked about it the last two games -- that you have to earn people's respect," said Petersen. "You do that by winning games you're not expected to win.
"They deserve it," he added. "This is one of the hardest-working group of kids I've been around."
Senior forward A.J. Washington led the Saints with 14 points, including 3 spectacular dunks, and 11 rebounds.
"We didn't shoot the ball well from the field at all (25 of 67) other than A.J. who was 7 of 11," said Woods, whose team was unable to overcome frigid shooting (19 percent) from 3-point range.
"We took a lot of 3s as we have but we were 7 for 36," added Woods. "We had 10 turnovers in the second half that really hurt us and we got outrebounded again which has kind of been our nemesis in a lot of our losses.
"I think if you look at turnovers, rebounds and missed shots, there's your game right there."
Adduci added 13 points in his high school finale.
"The frustrating thing is they were right there," Adduci said of his team's 3-point attempts. "We were getting good looks. We usually hit those. That gets under your skin but you've got to move on."