St. Viator's boys basketball team played with pride and character all season.
Even though they lost to a powerful Niles North team 68-60 in the Vikings' Class 4A Regional final, the Lions could hold their heads high Friday night.
"We never gave up," said senior forward Peter Lambesis. "We followed our game plan, and we did what we could. We dove for balls, hustled and played good defense. They would go on runs and then we'd come back at them. We left the floor with no regrets."
The Lions, who finished 24-6 and were the East Suburban Catholic champions, matched the Vikings (26-4) in intensity from the opening tip to the finish.
Niles North was a physically imposing team, but the Lions stood up to the Vikings, countering with precision passing and their usual solid defensive play to keep the game within 9 points or less most of the game.
"Even when we fell behind by nine (58-49) with minutes left, these players never gave up," said St. Viator coach Quin Hayes.
Jeremiah Hernandez, who scored 22 points to lead St. Viator (including 15-for-16 from the free throw line), hit 2 free throws to make it 58-51 with 2:21 left. The Lions batted down the ball as Niles North tried to inbounds.
Lambesis (16 points, 8 rebounds) came away with the possession and then scored to cut the lead to 58-53.
Damaria Franklin (23 points, including 14 fourth-quarter points) hit 3-of-4 free throws to up the lead to 61-53 for the Vikings.
Lambesis took a pass from Hernandez (6 assists) to score. Trey Calvin (17 points, 8 rebounds) followed with a 3 six seconds later, making it 61-58.
Niles North, which hit 13 of 16 fourth-quarter free throws, hit 7 of 8 -- including the final 4 by Franklin.
"Franklin is the guy we needed to have touches for," said Niles North and former Rolling Meadows star guard Glenn Olson. "He had the ball more in the second half when we needed him to. We had two great teams in this regional final. We knew this would be a dogfight to the end. Our kids shot the ball real well from the free throw line."
The Lions finished 21-for-25 from the fould line, which helped keep them in the game.
St. Viator built a 34-29 third quarter lead when things began to turn.
Lambesis was called for a charging foul and landed hard on his back, which caused him to sit out for a few minutes.
Damaria's basket with 4:39 left in the quarter broke a 34-34 tie as part of a 5-0 run.
The Lions never led again.
"Peter just wasn't himself after coming back in," Hayes said. "I think the fall had some effect on him but he's a tough player and you couldn't keep him out of the game."
Damaria became more aggressive on offense, and steady play from Dravon Clayborn (20 points) helped keep the Lions at bay.
"He had some foul trouble tonight that we haven't had much of this season and it hurt us," Hayes said. "The team character on this team was off the charts. This is a team that you get as a coach once in every 10 years. This team was very special."
"We knew Niles North would be tough," Hernandez said. "We played with pride and character all year. Sadly we just couldn't pull it off tonight."