East Aurora stuns top-ranked Benet
Benet's comeback was the stuff of champions.
But this night belonged to Ryan Boatright.
The undefeated and top-ranked Redwings roared back from 17 down in the second half, but Boatright and East Aurora held on for a 60-52 upset at Tuesday's Class 4A East Aurora sectional semifinal.
"They're the No. 1 team in the state for a reason. I knew they were going to make a run," said Connecticut recruit Boatright. "We just had to keep our poise and that's what we did."
Benet (29-1), ranked seventh nationally in the latest USA Today poll, was stopped short in what the Redwings hoped would their first state tournament appearance since 1983.
"Unfortunately this is part of March if you don't play well," Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said. "You have to go through a team like East Aurora on their home court, you better play well. If you don't, you're going to get beat."
The Tomcats (24-5) finished the first half on a 15-2 run to take a 35-21 lead into the break.
Boatright scored 29 points with 6 assists, his pull-up 3-pointer with 6:03 left in the third quarter giving East Aurora its biggest lead at 40-23.
Benet answered with a 7-0 run, and a 9-2 Redwings spurt capped by a Matt Parisi 3 had the margin at 49-42 entering the final quarter.
Benet got as close as 49-48 with 3:38 left after Pat McInerney split two free throws.
But Boatright answered with a darting, driving basket through the Benet defense.
Boatright was called for a five-second violation the Tomcats' next trip down, but in a critical turn of events Benet's Dave Sobolewski missed a layup in front of Boatright. At the other end Boatright hung in the air for a three-point play over 7-footer Frank Kaminsky, making it 54-48 with 1:07 left.
"He had been passing every time he drove," Boatright said of Sobolewski, "so I went to play the pass and he missed the layup. He never looked at the rim. He had his eyes on me the whole time."
Benet never did get closer than 3. A handful of empty possessions down the stretch hurt the Redwings, as did missing 5 of 7 free throws in one stretch.
"Our kids battled and showed a lot of toughness," Heidkamp said. "We just had difficulty scoring those last four minutes. We worked to get back into the game; we just couldn't get over the hump."
Boatright missed his first 3 shots, then hit 9 of 11 at one point and had 24 points through three quarters. The red-hot Tomcats hit 5 of 6 3-pointers in the second quarter, John Williams nailing three 3s in a row to stretch the lead to 34-21. Williams scored 16 points, including two free throws with seconds left to seal the win.
"They're easy to coach when they're focused," East Aurora coach Wendell Jeffries said. "When I walked into the locker room before the game there was a quiet calm. Everybody was focused."
It was a year ago in the same sectional semifinal round that Benet beat East Aurora, Boatright held to 18 points.
"They ended our season last year, and of course it feels good to beat them this year," Boatright said. "This is our town. We weren't going to lose here tonight."
Northwestern recruit Sobolewski scored 13 points but had only two free throws in the second half. He was switched to guard Boatright after halftime with Parisi hampered by three fouls.
"I definitely wore him out," Boatright said. "He was tired."
Wisconsin-bound Kaminsky had 12 points and 8 rebounds, Parisi 11 and Pat Boyle 11. Benet's memorable season included its first Proviso West Tournament championship and a win over then-No. 1 Simeon, which beat Benet in last year's supersectional.
"We would have liked to advance, and unfortunately it didn't happen tonight," Heidkamp said. "But what they accomplished the last two years is pretty special."