Downstate rally falls short for Fremd
PEORIA -- Fremd showed the state of Illinois that it belongs here.
Despite their undefeated record and berth in the Class 4A high school boys basketball semifinals at Carver Arena, there were still those who believed that the Vikings wouldn't measure up on the last weekend of the state tournament.
But the Vikings turned those critics into believers on Friday.
Fremd dug itself a 17-point hole in the first half, only to mount a furious rally to tie the game on 3 occasions before finally succumbing to Whitney Young 53-47.
Fremd (31-1) will play in the third-place game against Bolingbrook at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Bolingbrook lost in the other semifinal to Simeon 60-50. Simeon will meet meet Public League rival Whitney Young at 7:15 for the state title.
Fremd coach Bob Widlowski said he could not have been more proud of his team's effort.
"I would like to thank our players for a tremendous effort tonight," Widlowski said. "They played fantastic in the second half and battled back. I thought we were one possession away from playing in the state championship game."
Speed can kill, and it got to Fremd early in the game.
"I think it took some time to get adjusted to the bright lights," said Vikings senior forward Shaan Patel, who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. "The game came out with a pretty fast pace and it took us a while to get adjusted."
Whitney Young (26-5) pressured the Vikings early and hard, forcing 11 first-half turnovers.
The Dolphins ran off 8 unanswered points to build a 12-4 lead late in the first quarter. Fremd's Brian Dompke drained a 3 at the first-quarter buzzer as the Vikings closed within 14-8.
Whitney Young wasn't done.
The Dolphins pushed the Vikings even harder, bolting to 29-12 advantage with 3:06 left in the first half. It was the most this Fremd team had trailed by all season, more than doubling the 8-point deficit it had against Conant in the sectional final.
"We just wanted to play Fremd basketball," said Dompke, who finished with 13 points and 7 rebounds. "The pace was not what we wanted it to be. We wanted to slow it down and eliminate the turnovers."
Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter then mysteriously pulled the ball out and began to slow the pace.
"I am not a very good coach," said Slaughter with a smile. "That really wasn't a good decision. We were trying to get some subs in the game. It may have been more prudent to keep going."
With just a miniscule opening, the Vikings pushed right through it. They scored the final 7 points of the half and then went on a 9-1 run to open the second half. And suddenly it was 31-28 on a basket by Patel with 5:32 left in the third quarter.
"We knew that this was not nearly as hard as we could play," said Fremd's Kyle Sliwa of his team's performance in the first half. "We missed some layups and weren't getting back on defense. But the big change for that was that we had just 4 turnovers in the second half."
Widlowski, who had layed out his team's comeback run when his team trailed by 17, said his team's rally exceeded his hopes.
"We wanted to get it down to 10 at the half," Widlowski said. "And the plan was to get it to 4 by the end of the third quarter. Well, we got there with five minutes left in the third quarter."
The Vikings stayed the course and made the comeback complete when Dompke hit a basket with 4:59 to play to tie the game at 40.
Whitney Young forged ahead on 3 free throws to lead 43-40. Ryan Martin drove the lane to convert a basket and was fouled; his free throw with 3:51 left tied the game again.
Young hit another pair of free throws. Martin (8 points) answered with another dribble-drive to tie the game at 45 with 1:26 to play. But the Vikings could not get over the hump.
Sliwa fouled out with 1:13 on a basket by Young's Kenneth Pittman, who would go on to miss the free throw. The Dolphins added 3 more free throws to open up a 50-45 lead with 38.1 seconds left.
Patel canned two more free throws to make it 50-47 with 19.1 seconds left, but that is as close as the Vikings got.
"They are 31-0 for a reason," Slaughter said. "That is a good basketball team over there."
Widlowski said his team battled to the end.
"We put ourselves in a position to play for the state championship," Widlowski said. "And that's an incredible feat.
"For our seniors, this is a tough way to lose their first game," Widlowski said. "To go an entire season and go 31-0 and lose a two-possession game is very difficult. I can't be any prouder in any way, shape or form about how they represented our school, our community and our basketball program."