Due to how the Class 3A boys basketball bracket is drawn St. Francis was the visitor in its own Spyglass Athletic Center in Wheaton, but the Spartans felt right at home.
Guard Mike Cascella made up for his team's 3 quick turnovers by hitting three 3-pointers that launched a 66-51 Spartans victory over Wheaton Academy on Friday, St. Francis' first regional title since 2013 and its third straight year ending the Warriors' season.
"We really started out slow," said Cascella, who hit four 3s and scored a personal-high 20 points. "A lot of nerves were obviously in the air. I mean, this is the most crowded game I've ever been a part of and just to give a spark for our team, I couldn't be happier right now."
It was intense due to playoff ramifications and the bond the players have with each other.
"I have a couple buddies on that team that I've grown up with since I was 8," said Spartans point guard Matt Cooney, who scored 16 points. "It's tough seeing them out, but I mean, it's basketball. It's basketball."
It was fast-paced basketball for St. Francis, which advanced to a Class 3A Woodstock North sectional semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Rockford Boylan, a 69-59 winner over Rockford Lutheran.
"We tried to push the ball every time, misses and makes, to get up and down," Cascella said. "Drew a lot of fouls, got to the line. We played our pace tonight for sure."
No. 3 seed St. Francis (15-15) made 13 of 21 field-goal attempts and forced 10 Warriors turnovers to post a 38-24 halftime lead. In the second quarter Cooney and Andrew Harvey took over where Cascella left off, Nick Kosmetatos adding a three-point play and a 3.
Behind Jayston Williams and Jack Dykema 3s, Seb Pares' pick-and-roll hoop from J.D. Gunn's assist and Gunn's basket while sprawled in the lane, No. 2 Wheaton Academy (20-7) came within 47-37 at 2:26 of the third quarter.
St. Francis coach Erin Dwyer took time out and the Spartans closed the quarter on a Cooney three-point play and Cascella's fourth 3 to lead 53-37 entering the fourth.
"Just slow down, stay confident, stay aggressive, play fearless," was Dwyer's message. "That's our biggest thing, play fearless."
As the St. Francis fans roared, their team led 62-44 with 2:17 remaining in the game.
"It was an awesome atmosphere, we had the whole Blue Crew, the whole side filled up," said 13-point scorer Harvey. "They were just a real fun game to play. And they play well."
Williams led Wheaton Academy with 12 points, Gunn added 9 and Stephen Garrison scored 7 for a team that went 6-21 last season.
"They'll kick in here in a day or two, hey, we had a great season," said Wheaton Academy coach Steve Thonn. "The seniors did a lot of great things, they kind of turned the whole program around pretty quickly. So there's a lot of good things, we just won't realize it for a few days."