There's a reason basketball coaches run plays to death in practice. The St. Francis boys showed why.
In the final minute of play against host Montini's abrasive man-to-man defense, St. Francis point guard Matt Cooney saw teammate Nick Kosmetatos streaking to the hoop on a backdoor cut. Cooney's 15-foot bounce pass hit the 6-foot-1 junior in the hands, and Kosmetatos laid it in to give the Spartans a 2-point lead with 24 seconds left.
Following a missed Montini 3-point shot Spartans post John Detloff grabbed his ninth rebound, was fouled and made two free throws for a 54-50 Chicago Catholic League White victory in Lombard.
"It's the best one of the year," Kosmetatos said of the backdoor play.
"You look at the defender and then you read the point guard's eyes who's passing to you. So that's when you know when you're ready to go, when you see a clear lane to the basket," he said.
Spartans coach Erin Dwyer said the play's execution was "perfect," which is a function of practice.
"It gets monotonous in practice when we keep making them run through different sets and make guys go to different spots," Dwyer said, "and that's for that very occasion."
St. Francis (12-13, 5-2) soured Montini's senior night by countering the Broncos' late 6-0 run.
Trailing 49-44 after the Spartans' Mike Cascella converted a three-point play with 1:32 to play, Montini (13-8, 3-3) used a Jermari Harris free throw, Anthony Thompson's drive, then Harris' third steal of the game leading to Thompson's own three-point play for a 50-49 Broncos lead with 53.6 seconds left.
In a game of 18 lead changes and 11 ties, the competition got heated.
"I mean, the student sections were getting into it, things were getting a little chippy, but it was a lot of fun for sure," said Cascella, the 5-7 junior whose 17 points tied Thompson for game honors. St. Francis senior Andrew Harvey scored 11 of his 13 points in the first quarter but took ill at halftime and played decreasing minutes thereafter.
Cascella's free throw knotted the score 50-50 with 46.1 seconds left. He missed a second free throw but the ball bounced out of bounds, last touched by Montini, to set up St. Francis' game-winning play.
Montini came off a huge win Thursday over Morton but on Friday was hurt by 10-of-21 free-throw shooting.
"In practice we practice them up, we keep shooting it," Thompson said. "But if you're not, like, actually taking it serious then you're just not going to be able to make them in the game when all the eyes are on you and you actually need to make it."