DeKALB -- This was supposed to be the down year for Benet.
A ninth straight 20-win season? Not with that schedule.
Vying for the East Suburban Catholic Conference title? Not against those powers.
Continuing the run of postseason success in the program? Not in a sectional that tough.
So much stacked against a Benet team that returned only role players from the year before in senior David Buh and sophomore center Colin Crothers. But here they were in the NIU Convocation Center on the heels of a third sectional title in five years, one win away from another semifinal trip to Peoria.
It wasn't meant to be Tuesday night. Larkin broke Benet's 18-game winning streak with a 53-46 decision that handed the Redwings their only loss of 2018.
They played as a deserving sectional champion, rallying from a 12-point second-half deficit to within 48-46 with 38 seconds left. Larkin, however, closed out Benet's hopes of another trophy.
"Before the season we had high expectations but we didn't know what our ceiling could be," said Buh, who scored 9 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. "Throughout the year we had some ups and downs like every team will have. But obviously toward the second half we started playing really well, playing together. Playing good team basketball.
"It really proves that when people outside may not have high expectations, if a team comes together and plays together as a unit, you can be successful at the end."
Benet did win 20 games again -- 27 in fact. After losing twice at the Pontiac holiday tournament, the Redwings didn't lose again until Tuesday.
They finished second in the prestigious ESCC, won the John Malone Thanksgiving Tournament as well as Wheaton Warrenville South's Martin Luther King Jr. weekend tournament.
Benet claimed its sixth regional title in nine seasons and the Class 4A Glenbard East sectional title with pretty much a no-name group that played amazingly well together. Fourteen times the defense held an opponent to 40 or fewer points and 10 times the Redwings scored 60 or more with no one averaging more than 14 points.
Not that the Redwings ticked off the accomplishments as they went. That's not the Benet way.
"We don't set goals in our program," said Benet coach Gene Heidkamp. "Our goal is to try to win the next game. And if you do that enough times, you play in games like this.
"It's the journey. It's the experience. It's what we went through together as a team that, in the big picture, is something we'll never trade. Part of what we're experiencing right now is part of the beauty of high school basketball, as painful as it is," he said.
"What's happening in that locker room they'll remember the rest of their lives. When it means so much, you hurt. It's not even just about losing the game. It's that we're done. These guys care about each other so much, it's hard to overcome," he said.
There's no doubt the Redwings gave everything the had on Tuesday ... just as they did throughout a season of excelling at exceeding expectations.
As Jake Ronneberg sat at a table addressing the media after the loss, he wore a big bandage under his left eye that covered a cut and a shiner suffered in the sectional final victory over Willowbrook.
The message was clear. Benet battled.
"I love all those guys in that locker room," Ronneberg said. "Just being able to carry on that Benet tradition and having different players step up every game, it's just been a ton of fun to play in this program. I wouldn't trade any experience in the world for it."
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