Panic is not in the Fremd boys basketball vernacular. And so far this season, neither is losing.
The Vikings fell behind early to Libertyville on Thursday in the semifinals of the 39th annual Wheeling Hardwood Classic. But Fremd quickly regrouped and went on to 54-38 victory.
It puts the Vikings back in the title game for the first time since 2013, when they beat St. Viator. Fremd, which was unbeaten at that time, remained that way this season as the Vikings upped their season mark to 12-0.
"We are excited to get back to the championship game here," Fremd coach Bob Widlowski said. "We have played well enough to earn a spot in the championship game."
Fremd will meet Notre Dame in the title game with an 8:45 p.m. tip. The Dons topped Waukegan 62-55 in the other semifinal.
Libertyville (7-6), which finished second last year to Notre Dame, will meet Waukegan in the third-place game at 7:15 p.m.
Libertyville got off a to a quick start Thursday. The Wildcats, led by Drew Peterson, jumped to a 6-0 lead with 5:16 left in the first quarter.
But after a timeout, Fremd was all business.
The Vikings were methodical in attacking the basket on the next possession. It ended 43 seconds later as Kyle Sliwa found an open lane and drove for a basket and a 3-point play.
That ignited the Vikings on both ends of the floor, as Fremd ran off 16 unanswered points to lead 16-6 after one period.
"We did a real nice job of staying composed after their start," Widlowski said. "I thought we competed tonight at a high level."
Fremd kept Libertyville scoreless for another 1:34 before the Wildcats got their offense in gear. Libertyville closed the deficit to just 2 points on 5 different occasions in the second quarter before Fremd inched ahead to 26-23 lead at the break.
Fremd came out in the third quarter and began to push the pace. It appeared that strategy caught the Wildcats off guard, as the Vikings scored 9 unanswered points. Fremd spread the offense around, with four different players picking up baskets as it built a 35-23 with 4:19 left in the third quarter.
"I thought we came out with a determined second-half effort," Widlowski said. "We really liked the way we competed in the second half."
Libertyville made a final push, getting to 41-35 on a basket by Riley Gowens with 4:54 to play. Fremd closed out the game by converting 12 of 14 free throws.
Widlowski was impressed by the defensive play of Shawn Patel and Ryan Martin, who took turns defending Peterson, even with the highly-touted junior scoring 24 points. The balance of the Libertyville scoring was divided by five players with none having more than 4 points.
"I thought Shaan Patel and Ryan Martin did a great job on Peterson," Widlowski said. "Peterson is a tough guard because of his skill and size. He had some numbers, but overall they limited his easy looks and made it hard for him to score."
Martin, who had 9 points and 5 rebounds, said guarding Peterson was a challenge.
"He has a lot of length," Martin said. "The best we can do is to contest his shot. We just wanted to try to wear him down."
Patel, who had 6 points and 10 rebounds, said the defense led to scoring opportunities for Fremd.
"It was a lot of team defense," Patel said. "We get a lot of our points in transition. We like to go forward and go. That's big for us."
Sliwa led Fremd with 14 points, with 8 of those coming in the final quarter. Luke Schoffstall had 11 points, Bryce Hopkins came of the bench to score while Brian Dompke had 6 points.
Libertyville coach Brent Mork said that Fremd controlling the tempo made it difficult for his team.
"They are mentally and physically tough," Mork said. "They just get you out of game and out of our rhythm because they make you work for everything you get."