They say it's tough to beat a team three times in one season. Don't tell that to the Metea Valley boys basketball team.
The Mustangs lost their first game of the season 52-50 to Lake Park, way back on Nov. 20. Since then, they've beaten the Lancers three straight, including the most important, a 51-39 victory in a Class 4A regional quarterfinal Monday at Hinsdale South.
"It's just about living to play another day," Metea Valley coach Matt Walpole said. "That's all we wanted to do tonight: Have practice tomorrow."
"It's playoffs," added junior shooting guard Ethan Helwig, who led a 6-0 run to start the fourth quarter that put the game away. "You can't underestimate a team. Like Lake Park, we played them four times this year. Earlier in the season, they beat us on a buzzer beater."
It looked early like the Lancers might have enough to even the score with Metea Valley (16-11), taking a slim 33-28 deficit into the fourth quarter.
But then Helwig took over, sandwiching a lane layup and a fastbreak layup between a bucket from junior teammate Veonte Ballard in the first two minutes. Suddenly, the Mustangs were up 39-28.
Helwig wasn't done. He would add a steal and a layup with 2:45 and 1 of 2 free throws with two minutes to go to salt away the victory and put the Mustangs into the regional semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Willowbrook at Hinsdale South.
"He usually is the catalyst for us," Walpole said of Helwig. "Ethan does a little bit of everything for us. He handles the ball in crunch situations, he's one of the guys on our team that can break down and a get a shot for himself. He usually makes pretty good decisions for us."
The Mustangs did get balanced scoring, with Ballard leading the way with 11, Helwig with 10 and senior guards Brad Hartje and Holden Rank each chipping in 8. In all, they shot 45 percent from the field.
Across the court Lake Park (6-19) saw its season end despite balanced scoring of its own. Senior Diamante Smith led the Lancers with 10, while senior forward Daniel Spejcher and sophomore guard Luke Sgarbossa each added 8.
But while Lake Park was down by just 1 as late as 3:43 left in third quarter, their 16 turnovers were a killer, not to mention 35 percent shooting from the field. The Lancers did control the boards 29-17, however.
"When you play a good team, too many missed layups, too many fouls on our end, and then too many missed free throws," Lake Park coach Josh Virostko said. "Not to sound cliché, but to win close games, you've got to extend."
Added Smith: "We just came in thinking this was going to be a tough game. We already played them three times this year. We came in the fourth time and said, Let's even the series. We knew this could be our last game so we wanted to give it our all."