Neuqua Valley played a whopper of a first quarter. The rest was good enough.
Good enough is all that's required in the playoffs, and the Wildcats eliminated Naperville Central 63-49 in Wednesday's Class 4A Neuqua Valley regional semifinal in Naperville.
"What we talked about earlier, we want to play like we did against Metea a couple weeks ago," said Neuqua coach Todd Sutton, referring to a Feb. 1 overtime loss. "That intensity, that's when we're really good. When we don't play with that intensity we're not very good, kind of boring. We had great intensity for eight minutes."
No. 8 Neuqua Valley (18-11) made 12 of 16 first-quarter shots, including 4 of 7 from 3-point land, forced No. 9 Naperville Central into 4 turnovers while committing none, and led 13-0 before the Redhawks' Austin Pauga canned a jumper three and a half minutes in.
All five Neuqua starters scored, balance needed for Friday's regional final against No. 1 seed Plainfield East (26-1).
Be it a Darien Miskel inside basket, a Jabari Sandifer fast-break layup, a Pat Kenny runner, a Tyler Sutton 3 or Peter Catchings' putback to end the first quarter up 29-9, all Neuqua cylinders clicked.
"They were missing shots, we got the defensive board and we pushed it. We kind of outran them a little bit. It just took them awhile to adjust," said Tyler Sutton, who scored 12 of his 17 points in that first quarter.
"We just wanted to come out and play hard," said point guard Sandifer, who scored 11 points to Miskel's 10. "It was good we did, because they started coming back a little bit."
Handicapped by 6-foot-8 Nick Czarnowski's right knee tendinitis Josh McMillan filled his spot, Czarnowski in for 6 points, 4 rebounds and a block in sparse minutes Naperville Central slowly recovered.
"Everyone battled, no one gave up," Czarnowski said.
Pauga and Nick Lopez helped outscore Neuqua 15-9 in the second quarter and continued the assault in the third, trimming Neuqua's lead to 50-40 on Mike Gruenthal's inside basket.
Neuqua's Jesse Romero-White hit a 3 just before the horn for a 53-40 lead and security.
With 1:49 left in the game, Naperville Central was within 57-47 on a 3 by Lopez who scored 19 points with Pauga at 14 but Sandifer and Tyler Sutton salted it away from the foul line.
"Our seniors just never quit, they showed a lot of character and heart," said Naperville Central coach Pete Kramer. "They always played hard every night, all season."
Kramer called this team a joy to coach. Senior captain Nick Linne gave a reason why.
"We're all really good friends, even outside of basketball," Linne said. "Just not even thinking about basketball, the team was just awesome, wherever we went."
Naperville Central High School
Neuqua Valley High School
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