Not pretty, but St. Charles East tops rival
The math got a bit fuzzy but the St. Charles East boys basketball team was in the clear when the dust settled from Friday's rivalry tilt against visiting St. Charles North.
The Saints shot 32 percent from the field (14 of 44), committed 7 of their 15 turnovers in the third quarter and lost the rebounding battle 28-21, yet managed to defeat the North Stars 44-40 to complete the regular-season series sweep.
"It was ugly, but we'll take it," St. Charles East coach Pat Woods said. "We're glad we won, but we've got a lot to work on."
St. Charles East (15-12, 6-5) won for the fourth time in five outings by playing tough defense and making just enough shots from 3-point range.
The Saints limited St. Charles North (9-14, 3-8) to 40 percent shooting from the field (16 of 40) and 1 of 7 from 3-point range.
Meanwhile, East knocked down 6 of 20 long-range attempts. Seniors Mark Musial (game-high 14 points) and Nate Ortiz (12 points) each sank 3-of-6 attempts from beyond the arc.
"Our defense was good," Musial said. "We just had to stay locked in mentally because it's really easy to blow leads like that and it's happened us this season a lot, actually. It was really nice to come out with a win and take care of business."
No shot was more critical than the 3-pointer Ortiz sank with just over two minutes left to put his team ahead 37-33. In a low-scoring game in which every possession was magnified, his shot from the top of the arc was water in the desert to a thirsty offense.
"I feel real confident in myself if my teammates find me," Ortiz said. "If we run sets well and we run them crisp, we're going to get open shots."
Ortiz lost his defender in traffic in the lane, helped in part by a screen set by junior Aidan Sullivan.
"That's an action they run for Musial and it's an action we prepped in practice against," St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin said. "I told the guys I don't care if you get a foul blasting through the screen, they don't get a three off. We kind of accepted the screen and wore it allowed too much space."
The North Stars were still able to draw within 37-36. First, 6-foot-9 junior Connor Linke made two free throws. Following a missed bonus free throw by the Saints, senior guard Lucas Heflen split a pair from the line with 37.9 seconds left.
However, East made 7 of 8 free throws from that point forward to prevail. The North Stars lost for the third time in four games.
"It's time to win," Poulin said. "We can. This group can win a regional. People might laugh, but this group is good enough to win a regional. We have the pieces. We just have to be locked in mentally for 32 minutes."
Linke (9 rebounds) and junior guard Luke Scheffers each scored 11 points to lead the North Stars. Heflen finished with 10 points and 7 rebounds and 3 assists.