Like all coaches, St. Viator's Quin Hayes preaches defense.
On Wednesday in Skokie, the choir showed they really got it.
St. Viator's defense humbled Rolling Meadows, forcing 25 turnovers as the Lions rolled to a 72-32 victory in the semifinals of the Niles North regional.
St. Viator (24-5) will meet host Niles North (25-4) in regional final play at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Lions' man-to-man defense was spectacular all night. St. Viator forced 15 first-half turnovers, 11 of which came from steals.
St. Viator's Peter Lambesis and Matt Doersching shut down Rolling Meadows' top two scorers in Max Christie and Gio Carrillo. The Viator tandem held the Mustangs duo scoreless in the first half while holding them to just 2 shots combined.
"A lot of people preach defense, but not a lot of them work on it," Hayes said. "We work on it day in and day out. You have heard the old saying that 'defense travels' -- we believe that."
Lambesis, who drew the tough assignment of guarding Christie, gladly accepted the challenge.
"That challenge is something I am always up for," Lambesis said. "Just guarding the other team's best guy. I knew a lot about him. He can swing the ball, and we knew if we could shut him down, he is the head of the offense."
Rolling Meadows (15-12) led 4-3 when the wheels came off, thanks to the Lions having the wrenches.
On the Mustangs' next 5 possessions, Viator had 4 steals and a run-out basket. Jeremiah Hernandez then nailed a 3-pointer, and the Lions way out front with a 16-4 lead.
"Our defense picked up, and the ball pressure all around was the difference," said Hernandez, who finished with 16 points. "We got into the passing lanes for easy buckets and run-outs."
Leading 16-5 after the first quarter, St. Viator further increased its intensity. The Lions forced 10 second-quarter turnovers and outscored Rolling Meadows 19-2 in the quarter to lead 35-7 at the break.
"Our main focus was our defensive pressure," said Trey Calvin, who had 8 of his 15 points in the second quarter. "We weren't trying to outscore them. We were trying to keep them under 8 points at the half. And we did that."
Jack Geary and the the Lions continued to excel in the second half. Geary, a senior co-captain, finished with a career-high 19 points after going 7-for-8 from the field, including a pair of 3s.
"The points are great, but the only thing that matters is that we keep winning," Geary said. "Once the first couple went in, the basket looks a little bigger and you want to keep shooting."
Besides playing defense, Doersching finished with 7 points and Lambesis had 6.
The Lions will need that type of play against a Niles North team that has been ranked among the top teams in the Chicago area all year.
"We need to be fantastic against them," Hayes said. "They are a heck of a team. We were hoping to play them at Christmas, but we didn't hold up our end of the bargain. We are looking forward to this matchup."
Rolling Meadows ended its season with the disappointing loss. But the Mustangs can hang their hat on a great season. They won 10 of their final 13 games and their 15 wins is the most in the last six years.
"We really turned it around this year," Rolling Meadows coach Kevin Katovich said. "I'll take responsibility for tonight. It was nothing the kids didn't do, we just weren't ready to go."
Katovich said his six seniors, along with Christie, a freshman, were the main reasons for the turnaround.
"This whole season has been a real joy," Katovich said. "Especially the second half. It starts with our six seniors. Tonight aside, I want us to focus on the whole picture of what we did this year."
Christie finished with 10 points to lead the Mustangs while Ryan Carney had 9 points.