In studying game film St. Francis boys basketball coach Erin Dwyer had said Rockford Boylan looked a lot like the Spartans.
He didn't realize it, but after Wednesday's Class 3A Woodstock North sectional semifinal, Boylan's Ben Ambrose agreed.
"A lot of it stems from our defense," said the Titans senior guard. "When we get stops a lot of our shots tend to go in."
In a contest of scoring surges, Boylan got the late stops needed to defeat the Spartans 51-47.
Holding St. Francis without a field goal for nearly four minutes down the stretch, Boylan (21-10) advanced to Friday's sectional final against Burlington Central (28-3). St. Francis (15-16) ended its strongest postseason since 2013.
"We had a shot to win with a minute left and I felt like we had a good chance," Dwyer said. "I still thought we were going to win up until the last nine seconds. I just felt like some way we'd find a way."
St. Francis' Matt Cooney figured in two fourth-quarter plays that pulled the Spartans within 44-42 -- a pullup jumper in the lane then a steal that led to a tip-in by Andrew Harvey.
Boylan coach Brett McAllister, a 2003 Barrington graduate, immediately took time with 4:34 left to play.
"We talk about getting three stops in a row" -- another St. Francis parallel -- "so there was a timeout where we said, in order to win the game we have to come out and get three stops in a row," McAllister said.
The Titans forced a turnover out of that timeout and did get those stops. St. Francis converted only Cooney's two free throws until the senior point guard laced a 27-foot 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds left that cut the Spartans' deficit to 51-47, where it remained.
Harvey led St. Francis with 18 points, 11 of them in the first quarter as he canned three 3s for a 14-10 Spartans lead. Then came Ambrose's turn as he made three 3s to lead Boylan into halftime up 30-22.
When Titans 6-3 sophomore forward Anthony Brown made it 34-22 on inside baskets to start the third quarter, Dwyer took time. The Spartans responded with a 14-2 run, started and finished by 6-5 center John Detloff and featuring a Mike Cascella 3, to help get within 39-36 after three quarters.
"They're high school kids, so anytime you can get momentum to change you never know what happens. So I thought we did a great job fighting back," Dwyer said. "I mean, I love my kids, I love my players. We asked them to kind of turn it up a notch."
Ambrose led Boylan with 14 points and Johnny Close scored 11. Detloff and Cooney each scored 11 points in their final Spartans basketball game.
"I've known these boys, some of them since seventh grade, and we created a family here," Cooney said. "We're trying to carry on a tradition where we can get to this point and farther every single year."