Lake Zurich rises to the task, sinks Libertyville
This wasn't the first rodeo for Ryan Kutsor and JR Cison.
They had been to a boys basketball sectional at Lake Zurich before.
"I was in eighth grade and JR was in seventh grade and Lake Zurich was hosting the sectional that year and Lake Zurich wasn't even in it, but we went to the games anyway. We actually watched those games together," said Kutsor, now a senior guard for Lake Zurich, but a local middle schooler with dreams back then. "The crowd was electric and it was an amazing atmosphere when we went to those games. We both knew that we wanted to play in a game like this someday on our own floor."
Someday was Tuesday. And the end result for Kutsor and Cison was certainly the stuff that middle school dreams are made of.
In front of a packed house on their own floor, Kutsor, Cison and the rest of the Lake Zurich Bears withstood some late Libertyville rallies and held on to get a 54-50 sectional semifinal victory in the Class 4A Lake Zurich sectional.
The top-seeded Bears, who improve to 25-7 for the second-most wins in school history, had fallen to Libertyville by 20 points in North Suburban Conference play just two weeks earlier. Now, they'll face Barrington, a 55-45 winner over Fremd, in the sectional championship game on Friday at Lake Zurich.
"This is the coolest thing ever, playing here," said Cison, who scored a team-high 16 points, including 6 points in the fourth quarter. "After going to those sectional games here when I was younger, I always dreamed about playing here at home. This is the coolest thing for me.
"I'm pretty happy. Today we were ready to play. We were excited and we really wanted it."
Lake Zurich got off to a strong start, up 20-13 after the first quarter. The Bears held a lead for much of the game, but like Libertyville has been known to do, a comeback was in the cards.
The Wildcats, who were down by as many as 17 points before winning Friday's Deerfield regional championship over Conant, took a 50-49 lead with 2:35 remaining on a Chase Eyre 3-pointer after being down by 7 points earlier in the fourth quarter.
"We fought back and we had the momentum," said Libertyville star forward Drew Peterson, who scored a game-high 22 points, including a 7-for-7 performance at the free throw line in the fourth quarter. "But we just couldn't hit a few more shots at the end or get enough stops. It was close though and it could have gone either way. Unfortunately, it just didn't go our way tonight."
Right after Libertyville took that 1-point lead, Cison came right back and hit a big floater down the middle of the lane to give Lake Zurich the lead back for good.
Peter DiCerbo and Joe Heffernan then combined for 3 big free throws in the final minute to cinch the win for Lake Zurich.
Libertyville, which also got double figures from Eyre (14 points), closes the season with a 19-10 record.
"Every game we play, I always think we're going to come back and win," Libertyville coach Brian Zyrkowski said. "This one will be hard (to process). When we took that 1-point lead, I felt it, I felt that our guys were going to finish this game and win it. Our guys were really fighting down the stretch.
"But Cison made a huge shot. And we just fell short."
For Lake Zurich, reserve Kenny Haynes also had a big game. He had 15 points on three 3-pointers. DiCerbo finished with 9 points and Kutsor had 8 points.
"We've got a lot of different weapons. JR had a big game, Kenny had a big game, it can be a different guy for us in each quarter, or from possession to possession," Lake Zurich coach Billy Pitcher said. "We showed that tonight.
"We beat Libertyville earlier this year (Lake Zurich is now 2-1 against Liberyville this season) and we had to play really well to do it. I thought we had to play even better to beat them tonight."