Warren holds off Prospect for upset
Juan DelaCruz and his Warren basketball teammates had an answer this time when another "Not again" moment arose during their Class 4A regional semifinal against Prospect on Wednesday night.
They said not this time. It's the state tournament, after all.
Warren coach Jon Jasnoch said his team has given up a fourth-quarter lead in at least five games this season. Against Mid-Suburban League East champ Prospect, the Blue Devils never did relinquish their advantage, which was 12 points early in the fourth. But they needed clutch free throws by DelaCruz and Adnan Sarancic to pull off their upset win.
DelaCruz scored a season-high 20 points, Sarancic added 18, and 11th-seeded Warren edged No. 6 Prospect 56-53 at Grayslake North.
"The difference between this game and the other games was that if we lose this one, we go home," DelaCruz said. "I told my teammates, 'You got to stay calm. We have the lead. We don't need to be chucking up shots or making bad passes. We just need to move the ball around and get uncontested layups.' That's what our coach told us too."
Warren (16-15), which beat Lakes in Monday's play-in game, advances to Friday's 7 p.m. final against No. 3 Waukegan (26-5). Waukegan defeated Warren 62-52 and 65-60 in North Suburban Conference play.
"We've been working to get better all season and to beat teams like Waukegan," Jasnoch said. "Hopefully we're ready for it."
Warren led Prospect (14-16) after every quarter, including 28-22 at halftime, and took a 45-35 advantage into the fourth. The Knights staged a furious rally to erase their deficit, but never got the lead. They forced Warren to hit key free throws down the stretch, and DelaCruz and Sarancic delivered.
Sarancic hit both ends of a 1-and-1 with 1:47 left to snap a 51-51 tie. DelaCruz then swished both ends of a 1-and-1 with 35 seconds to go to pad the Blue Devils' lead to 55-51. After Prospect's Sam Murray scored on a layup to make it a two-point game again, DelaCruz split 2 free throws with 13.8 seconds on the clock, making the first of a 1-and-1.
"I was just staying calm," DelaCruz said. "In practice it's a lot harder because I have teammates yelling at me or making me laugh. I try to focus on using my legs and following through on the ball."
DelaCruz, a 6-foot-3 junior who's taking a football visit to Iowa this weekend, also grabbed 7 rebounds (all on the offensive glass). He was a force inside, shooting 8 of 14 from the floor.
"Juan had a big game, early inside scores and late making the free throws," Jasnoch said.
Sarancic's reverse layup one minute into the fourth quarter extended Warren's lead to 47-35, its biggest of the game. But T.J. Johannesen's second 3-pointer of the game started a 9-0 run for Prospect, and suddenly the higher seed looked like it might avoid the upset after all. After DelaCruz's putback made it 51-48, Prospect pulled even on Jon Kreidler's 3 with 2:05 left.
"It's a matter of trusting and taking care of the ball," Jasnoch said. "Sometimes we try to do too much. A player tries to do too much and gets back-tapped or gets himself in a trap situation. And Prospect converted on those (turnovers)."
Murray led Prospect with 14 points, Johannesen had 10, and Kreidler finished with nine.