Intensely, Stevenson gets past Deerfield in sectional semi

By Rusty Silber
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 3/5/2019 10:27 PM

All season long Stevenson has depended on intensity and defense. The Patriots had plenty of both to show in a battle with Deerfield on Tuesday night.

RJ Holmes led with a team-high 12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocked shots and a couple of throw-down dunks while Matt Ambrose added 11 points with a trio of 3-pointers and a couple of steals and Matthew Kaznikov contributed with 7 points and 4 steals.


The effort led top-seeded Stevenson past No. 5 seed Deerfield 35-29 in a Class 4A Waukegan sectional semifinal. The Patriots (26-5) will meet the winner of Wednesday's Fremd-Waukegan game at 7 p.m. Friday for the sectional title.

"(Deerfield) has a lot of big kids and we had to dig in and contain those guys," Holmes said. "We had to execute and give a lot of effort. Last year, we didn't have the intensity that we have this year. We had to bring that intensity, because most teams can't match that intensity."

Stevenson had to deal with one of the tallest teams around. Deerfield (21-11) had post players Brandon Lieb (6-foot-10) and Jackson Kenyon (6-foot-9).

"Intensity is a part of the game," Holmes said. "We've been working so hard this season, I just refused to be outworked. We try so hard in the weight room and athletically, I try to do the best I can helping the team with my skills."

"We did enough to win and played enough defense," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "(Deerfield) was tough and they gave us a lot of matchup problems. We played enough defense at the right time. When we turned the ball over, we would get a stop and that was really important for us. It seemed like we were holding on to the lead for a while. We still need to do a better job of passing, catching and making better decisions. We should get better."

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Stevenson and Deerfield played the opening quarter even at 8-8. In the second quarter, it was slow possession after possession. The Patriots held a slim 15-14 lead at the break.

Matt Ambrose came out in the second half on fire, hitting two straight treys and John Ittounas added another as 9 straight points put the Patriots up 24-14 with 5:40 left in the third quarter.

The Warriors tightened up their defense and scored a couple of baskets before the end of the quarter and trailed 24-18.

In the fourth, Deerfield kept trying to close gap and did it on a couple of occasions. Lieb (9 points) completed a 3-point play with 4:29 remaining that made the score 27-24. But Holmes broke free of the Warriors' defense for a dunk and a 29-24 advantage with 4:10 left.

Deerfield's Walt Mattingly (13 points) made 2 free throws that cut the lead to 3 at 29-26 with 2:49 left. Each team made some turnovers over the next minute, until Holmes made a short jump shot at the one-minute mark that increased the Pats' lead to 31-26.

Kaznikov and Ittounas added free throws to ensure the victory.

"Our group has been a resilient group," Deerfield coach Dan McKendrick said. "We got down 10 and found a way to fight back, down by 3 with the ball. It just wasn't in the cards. In a sectional semifinal, at the end you have to find a way to execute and we just didn't get the job done. (Stevenson) was strong, athletic, they do a great job being at the help line from the weak side. I thought our kids rushed at times. We just needed some time to settle ourselves. For some reason, we just couldn't do it."

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