Chicago Public League teams are getting tired of seeing St. Francis.
The eighth-seeded Spartans defeated No. 5 Crane 64-51 Tuesday night at the Class 3A Glenbard South boys basketball sectional semifinals, earning a date Friday night against either No. 6 St. Joseph or CPL team Marshall, seeded second. Marshall and St. Joseph play Wednesday night at Glenbard South.
"I think that we're playing our best ball at the right time of the year," said Spartans senior Ryan Coyle, his right ankle wrapped in ice because of a high-ankle sprain suffered in Friday's victory against top-seeded Orr, another CPL team.
Coyle led the way with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists despite being "touch and go" as recently as Monday, according to coach Bob Ward.
"He's a warrior," Ward said. "I can't put it any other way."
The teams traded the lead six times in the first half, with Crane (18-7) taking a 25-23 lead into halftime.
St. Francis (20-7) quickly went ahead again in the third quarter, a pair of Coyle free throws with 6:24 left in the period giving the Spartans a 27-26 lead. It was the last time the lead changed hands.
"I thought it was really critical that we came out in the second half and established that the first half wasn't really a fluke, that we were here to stay," Ward said. "You've got to be conscious of them making runs all of the time and they never were able to do that. Once we established that they never were able to make that big run and once they went man-to-man, we got great shots."
St. Francis led 41-36 after three quarters when guard Nick Donati beat the buzzer with a layup that gave the Spartans momentum going into the fourth. The lead hit double digits when a pair of Jason Pisarski free throws with 5:12 left in the game put St. Francis up 51-41.
"They're a great team that we knew was going to make some runs," Coyle said, "and our whole point was understand that they were going to make their runs but to just stay with it and make sure that it didn't get too far away but to buckle down defensively and just score."
"We didn't come out and execute," Crane senior Willie Conner said. "The first half we did a good job at containing them and what we wanted to do, running our stuff. The second half we got away from it. And when you get away from running your sets and doing stuff you normally do, that's what happens."
The Spartans pulled away simply by being patient offensively, getting a lot of layups and the occasional 3-pointer, Pisarski and Andrew Kimball each knocking down a shot from behind the arc early in the fourth quarter as the Spartans pulled away.
"Nothing that we did by design," Ward said of his team's patience offensively. "It wasn't like, hey, we're going to slow it down and play to tempo. We knew that we had to convert defensively, we had to get back defensively, which we did it against Orr, we did it against Wheaton Academy the other night."
"Nothing special, they did nothing special," Conner added about St. Francis. "We were told what they were going to do, how they were going to do it, when they were going to do it. They came out and executed."
Crane narrowed the lead to 54-50 on a Conner 3-pointer with 1:47 to play, but the Spartans finished the game on a 10-1 run, going 8 of 10 at the line down the stretch.
For the game the Spartans made 18 of 22 free throws.
Brian Spahn added 12 points for St. Francis and earned praise from Ward for his backcourt defense, along with Donati.
Conner led Crane with 12 points.
"We're playing well right now, but every year you hope that that happens at this time of year," Ward said. "I thought that really the last month we've been getting better each week."
Wheaton St. Francis
Conference: Suburban Christian Blue
- Ferguson making move back to Wheaton College
- Ruggles reigns from arc
- Looking back at the best of the season
- St. Francis seniors showed they were a class above
- St. Francis finishes one run short