And so it begins.
It's not quite March yet, but the madness was on full display Tuesday night at Antioch.
No one had to tell the host Sequoits or the visiting Rams from Grayslake Central that it's one-and-done time now.
Although, the officials did have to tell them all to settle down a bit-or else.
Several times during the Class 3A regional semifinal between the two determined teams, the refs initiated what appeared to be very serious and deliberate discussions with a couple of players from both sides. Then, in the third quarter, the refs stopped the action completely, called a powwow at the free throw line with just the players huddled around, and again took a very serious tone.
Apparently the refs weren't happy with how overly physical the game was getting.
"Everyone was out there playing hard and rough. Lots of elbows were being thrown, everyone was getting a little chippy," Grayslake Central senior guard Sayvonte McWilliams said. "(The refs) just wanted to calm it down. They told us that we better knock it off or they were going to call the game.
"But I mean, it's the playoffs. No one wants to lose. That's why you go so hard."
The fourth-seeded Rams had to push themselves harder than they probably anticipated against No. 14 Antioch.
Grayslake Central had a 13-point fourth-quarter lead cut to just a point with about three minutes remaining. But thanks to some clutch free throw shooting down the stretch, the Rams were able to withstand Antioch's flurry to get a hard-fought 49-42 victory.
Grayslake Central advances to Friday's regional championship and will play either No. 12 Chicago Northside or No. 5 Grayslake North, their crosstown rival. Northside and Grayslake North will play at 7:30 p.m. today at Antioch.
"I thought the playoffs were going to be physical, but (the refs) were telling all of us that we were being too physical, so it was like 'Alright. So what do we do now?" said Grayslake Central senior guard Jordan Taylor, who pumped in a team-high 16 points. "We knew there was a lot at stake, so we still tried to go as hard as we could. Because right now, it's 'Go hard, or go home.'"
And neither team wanted that.
Antioch, which closes out the season with a 6-21 record, made that obvious with a spirited 13-1 run early in the fourth quarter that provided some hope and new life. Senior guard Emery Paramski scored 5 points at the end of the run to cut the Sequoits' deficit to 1 point at 40-39 with 2:13 left.
But even though Grayslake Central kept missing shot after shot on the offensive end, Antioch couldn't get over the hump. The Sequoits had their own shooting woes and scored just 3 points the rest of the way.
"We did this a lot this year. We'd get down and have to come back," said Antioch senior forward Karl Nettgen, who scored a game-high 18 points and was the only double-figure scorer for his team. Paramski was next with 9 points. "We had a lot of close games like that. It was tough to go through. I mean, I just wanted to win tonight. I really just wanted to win. It's my senior year. But you just have to go on. That's life."
McWilliams, Taylor and Sean Geary each nailed key free throws as Grayslake Central was eventually able to close out the game at the line. The Rams went 10-for-12 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
"We weren't surprised about Antioch because we know they're a much better team than (six) wins," Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe said. "Nettgen is a good player and they're playing on their home floor in what could be their last game. They're going to go hard and give it their best effort. They're not going to go away easily and I don't think our kids were ready for the energy and effort they played with."
Grayslake Central also got 14 points from McWilliams and 10 points from junior guard Danny Reed.
"We just didn't hit very well tonight," Antioch coach Jim White said. "We were right there when they weren't hitting their shots and they were giving us opportunities but we just couldn't (punch through)."
Antioch Community High School
Grayslake Central High School
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