They call it boys basketball at the high school level but West Aurora's 55-42 victory at South Elgin Friday was the unmistakable work of men.
Determined, steely eyed men.
Playing without co-captains and leading scorers Camron Donatlan (knee sprain) and Caleb Siler (illness) on the road against a South Elgin squad riding a 6-game winning streak, the Blackhawks nevertheless challenged every shot throughout a superb defensive effort. They limited the Storm to 32 percent shooting from the field (14 of 44) while winning the rebounding battle 26-20.
"I think getting stops on defense and then keeping them to one shot was huge," West Aurora coach Brian Johnson said. "You can't give up multiple efforts there on a possession on defense. We were able to keep them to one (shot) and that helped."
The win lifted West Aurora (16-7, 6-1) into a tie for first place in the UEC Valley with Bartlett (13-9, 6-1), which dropped a 68-63 decision at East Aurora Friday.
It was a team effort for West Aurora, but three players in particular stepped up in the absence of their co-captains. Junior Jared Crutcher had 14 points, 9 rebounds and 7 blocked shots, junior forward Damian Virgen finished with 15 points and 8 rebounds and senior point guard DaVion Cross scored 14 points.
"We had some people missing so a lot of us had to step up," Crutcher said. "We just played hard and stuff like that, got buckets, played good defense and was on the boards the whole game."
West Aurora led 24-22 at the half and widened its lead with a 10-3 run to open the third quarter. DaVion Cross contributed two of his four 3-pointers during that stretch, encouraged by Donatlan's coaching from the bench.
"He was telling me I was open the whole time and once I was open to shoot it because I was making good shots," said Cross, who made his first start of the season in his third game back from a wrist injury. "I listened to him in the second half. I got open and just shot. Luckily, they were going in today."
Cross wasn't the player South Elgin expected to shoot from long range.
"They knocked down some really good threes from shooters we didn't really consider shooters and that kind of hurt us," South Elgin guard Logan Atkins said. "I was not expecting that when (Cross) hit those threes in the second half."
South Elgin (14-7, 3-4) was missing senior guard Collin Uveges due to an illness, but the Storm broke from the gate well. They led 14-11 after a quarter, however, they lost the second quarter 13-8 by committing 5 turnovers and missing all six of their 3-point attempts.
"Their defense was phenomenal," South Elgin coach Brett Johnson said. "They just pressure you so much and it helps our guards learn to handle the ball better. So I thought it was a tough loss but we did a lot of learning tonight and that was good."
West Aurora led 37-32 after three quarters and maintained a 5-7 point lead throughout the fourth quarter until the Storm were forced to foul. The Blackhawks sank 8 of 8 free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
Atkins led South Elgin with 15 points while junior Noah Rohr and senior Jeremy Jenkins added 6 points apiece.