Regional title for St. Charles North highlights busy week
Win or go home.
That was what lied ahead for every Illinois high school basketball teams prior to last week's Class 3A and 4A regional tournaments.
Meanwhile, Class 2A featured sectional tournament action, including the star-studded, 4-team field at Aurora Christian.
My schedule included 4 games in 5 nights, capped by the 4A regional championship game at St. Charles East.
Here is a summary of the week:
Monday (Feb. 25) -- While 7th-seeded Huntley rallied from a double-digit, 4th-quarter deficit to edge Larkin 64-61 in regional quarterfinal action at St. Charles East, the night concluded with St. Charles North's 64-57 victory over Elgin before a crowd that included legendary coaches Ron Johnson (St. Charles), Jim Roberts (Batavia) and Jeff Howard (longtime Elgin assistant and former St. Charles standout).
The postseason win didn't create a great deal of excitement for the 6th-seeded North Stars, who committed 21 turnovers and trailed 20-10 after the opening quarter against an 11th-seeded Maroons team that entered the game with 23 losses in 29 games.
To put it bluntly, the North Stars were fortunate to advance.
"I don't think we played very well but we did enough to win," said North Stars coach Tom Poulin.
Senior guard Lucas Heflen led the North Stars with 20 points while junior guard Luke Scheffers had 10 points and 11 rebounds, and 6-foot-9 junior center Connor Linke added 9 points and 13 rebounds.
Junior guard Xavier Bonds paced Elgin (6-24) with 23 points.
"We played well for three quarters but you've got to play a full game," said Maroons first-year coach David Hess.
Ten seniors played their final games for Elgin, including Trey Yarber, Cameron Muller, Kejuan Harvey, Z'Kwan Stewart, Kamarr Banks, Joe Hoberg, Ryan Lim, Kefonte Taylor, James Mabry and Laroyce Montgomery.
"It's hard for seniors to have their senior year with a new coach," said Hess.
Tuesday -- The scene shifted to Aurora Christian for Class 2A sectional semifinal action.
While the host Eagles (24-8) got off to a great start, grabbing a 10-1 lead in the first 4 minutes, Chicago-Uplift (15-12) tallied 19 unanswered points to take a 20-10 lead and never looked back during its 72-60 triumph.
Winners of 3 straight regional titles, the Eagles ran into a talented Uplift team.
"Uplift's record does not indicate the talent they have and how good they are," said Aurora Christian coach Dan Beebe. "We started out well but unfortunately we didn't play well the rest of the game.
Juniors Taaj Davis and Will Wolfe led the Eagles with 22 and 19 points, respectively, while sophomore Jaehshon Thomas added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Despite the loss, the future looks bright for the Eagles.
"There's a tremendous amount of experience coming back," said Beebe. "We'll have two 4-year starters and a 3-year starter."
Five seniors -- Trey Madsen, Lawrence Nyong, Michael Cruger, Thomas Williams and Caleb Beebe -- played their last games for the Eagles.
Two-time defending 2A state champion Orr captured the sectional title, beating Uplift 72-56 Friday night.
Wednesday -- Improving its play from 2 nights earlier, St. Charles North upset 4th-seeded Dundee-Crown 42-30 behind Linke (14 points, 7 rebounds) and Heflen (12 points) in the 4A regional semifinals at St. Charles East.
The North Stars held the Chargers (18-10) scoreless for 11-plus minutes in the third and fourth quarters.
"We definitely had a hard time scoring," said D-C coach Lance Huber.
Josh Raby, 1 of 8 seniors, led the Chargers with 10 points.
Other seniors for the Chargers, who captured the 2018 regional crown, included Damarion Butler, Jack Michalski, Brad Stec, Robby Krueger, Matthew Shydlowski, Jordan Hairston and Logan Frey.
"Our seniors have been awesome," said Huber. "They've been the core of our team the last two years. They're definitely going to be missed."
After the game, Huber paid reserves Frey, Krueger and Shydlowski the ultimate compliment.
"They're three selfless guys who never complained about playing time," said the coach. "A team is not complete without guys like that."
Friday -- The week concluded with St. Charles North's 48-39 regional title victory over Huntley.
Heflen (12 points), Scheffers (11 points), Tyler Czerniak (10 points) and Linke (7 points, 16 rebounds, 6 blocked shots) helped lead the North Stars to their first regional crowd in 10 years.
"To win a regional at home -- this is home to me -- it's something special," said Poulin, a graduate of St. Charles. "It's never about me but personally it's really special to do that here and with this group."
Strong competition played a big part for the North Stars (14-17), who face Rockford East (31-2) in Tuesday's sectional semifinals at Rock Valley.
"Did you realize that 13 teams on our schedule were playing in a regional championship in 3A and 4A?" said the coach.
Seven of those teams won regional titles last weekend.
After combining for 21 wins the previous 3 seasons, Huntley finished the year at 18-15 with a senior class that included Nathan Draper, Patrick Roppolo, Davis Pasco, Blake Ottaviano and Nolan Engmann.
"It was the closest group we've had in a while," said Red Raiders coach Will Benson. "These last few weeks, we played our best basketball. That's what you want to do at the end of the year."
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org