What's sweeter? Knocking off the top seed in your boys basketball regional final, beating your cross-town rival, or avenging a loss to that team earlier in the season?
That was the question Friday for fourth-seeded IC Catholic Prep -- which experienced all three in a 54-45 win over top-seeded Timothy Christian in the Class 2A Guerin Prep regional -- in a battle between two scrappy squads from Elmhurst. The Trojans had beaten ICCP 50-42 on Jan. 19.
The Knights (19-9) repeated as regional champions, but it wasn't easy. They opened the fourth quarter with a 12-0 run to take a 37-23 lead, then had to hang on as the Trojans dropped a barrage of 3-pointers, 5 to be exact, including a pair from 6-foot-6 senior forward Brandon Orange.
But as it has all season, the free throw was the big difference for ICCP. The Knights went 22 for 30 in the fourth quarter and 31 for 40 for the game.
Timothy Christian coach Scott Plaisier elected to foul Nico Gaudio in the fourth to get the ball back, but the senior forward was up for the challenge, going 8 for 10 from the line. Add a fastbreak layup with 3:32 to go to put his team up 41-29, and those were 10 crucial points -- all the points he scored in the contest.
"It's no different for me," Gaudio said. "We practice free throws all the time. You just have to keep your head in the game, and my teammates helped me with that. It helped me with my consistency, and we got the job done."
Senior guard Kevin Cheng was no slouch, going 5 for 7 in the fourth quarter, including 3 of 4 early in the period after personal and technical fouls assessed to Trojans senior guard Michael Thomas.
"We practice shooting tired, so I think that's the biggest thing," said Cheng, who led the Knights with 14 points. "We're not practicing free throws with fresh legs, so I think that shows we're shooting tired and making them."
The Knights needed those freebies, because after their 12-0 run to start the fourth, Timothy Christian suddenly couldn't miss from 3-point land. The most damaging was a sequence starting at 3:20 when sophomore guard Matt Owens hit one from the right arc. ICCP turned the ball over on the ensuing inbound, which led to another 3 from Owens, who was also fouled and made the free throw for a 4-point play. That cut the Knights' lead to 41-36 with 3:09 to play.
Orange, who led the Trojans (22-6) with 18 points, added a pair in the final 1:03, but it wasn't quite enough.
"That's all that is, trying to make anything happen, and trying to hold onto the season as much as you can," Plaisier said of all those 3s. "When you're clawing for your life essentially when it comes to the end of your season, you're going to start just shooting the basketball the way I wish we had shot the ball early on."
Perhaps forgotten in the fourth-quarter excitement was ICCP's 2-3 zone, which nearly held Timothy Christian scoreless in the second quarter.
"I think it definitely wasn't something they were really prepared for; we hadn't run it very much this year," said Knights coach T.J. Tyrrell. "I thought it really helped the tempo, and they missed some shots early, which was big, and us not giving them second- and third-chance opportunities."
ICCP moves on to the sectional semifinal to face Chicago Clark at 7 p.m. Tuesday, which beat Chicago Latin School 52-45 on Friday.
The venue of that contest? Timothy Christian.