Fremd's boys basketball team may have been challenged Friday night for depth and for height.
But not for heart.
The Vikings, their roster depleted by injury, surprised Class 4A sectional No. 3 seed Stevenson 55-41 to win to the Buffalo Grove regional and advance to the Lake Zurich sectional next Tuesday evening against Barrington.
The No. 10-seeded Vikings (17-11) grabbed control of the pace of the game, limited Stevenson's touches. Ultimately, Fremd found a way to keep the Patriots off the boards and then relentlessly knocked down free throw after free throw in the fourth quarter in a game in which the Vikes never trailed.
"I am really proud of the way they played," said Fremd coach Bob Widlowski, whose team claimed a fourth regional triumph in the last five years. "They really executed very well."
They had to. With big Bryce Hopkins out, Fremd patiently ran its offense, rarely settling for outside shots and regularly going to the basket against taller defenders. Will Schmeling (10 points) did the damage in the first half, and Ryan Martin (12) picked it up in the second half.
When they weren't penetrating, they were making things possible for others. Martin's steal and feed to point guard Dean Ganas resulted in a key 3-point play early in the fourth quarter. Ganas' penetration and dish enabled Luke Seidel's open 3 on the prior possession.
"Ganas did a great job running the offense," said Widlowski.
Meanwhile, the Vikings were scrambling to try to keep Jackson Qualley off balance. "We rotated three different guys on him," said Widlowski.
None of it worked perfectly, as the 6-foot-2 senior scored a game-high 23 points. But the Vikings didn't let the Patriots (20-8) get second chances in the second half, outrebounding them 9-1 in the last two frames.
With Isaiah Turner (14 points) knocking down free throws in the second half the same way he'd knocked down 3-pointers in the first half, Fremd was on its way. The Vikings only committed 7 turnovers against Stevenson's pressure as Qualley could only get effective scoring support from point guard Matthew Ambrose (11 points), whose length and quickness afforded him layup opportunities.
But Stevenson never got closer than 4 in the second half, and coach Pat Ambrose, no stranger to sectionals, thinks he knows why.
"They out-physicaled us, out-toughed us," he said. "They were mentally and physically tougher."
Fremd making 16 of 17 free throws in the fourth quarter certainly helped.
"We've been through so much adversity. We stayed together," said Martin, one of those who rotated on Qualley and survived some good-natured razzing from the Stevenson student section. "We knew we could play with them. We're not done yet."
"The kids," said Widlowski, "kept a positive attitude."