Stevenson players leave their mark
Matthew Ambrose's shot to win it, to make school history, was that close. He and his Stevenson basketball teammates were that close to being that team.
The junior sharpshooter remembers that team. His dad was, and still is, the head coach, after all.
Sure, he was about 6 years old, but Ambrose remembers Stevenson's 2006-07 squad that stunned Warren in the supersectional to earn its first trip downstate, where the Patriots finished fourth. It was a team full of character kids but no superstars. Jong Lee (the leading scorer at 12.5 ppg), Kevin Stineman, Dylan Richter, Mikey Goldstein, John Taylor, Jacob Weiner.
"John Taylor, Kevin Stineman, talk to a lot of them, texted them about this game," Ambrose said Tuesday night after Evanston beat Stevenson 57-45 in overtime in the Class 4A Hoffman Estates supersectional at the Sears Centre Arena. "When I was really young, this is the stuff I dreamed of. Unfortunately, we were inches away from winning this game."
Ambrose, a 45-percentage shooter from three-point range this season, had a chance to send the Patriots to Peoria in the closing seconds of regulation. He grabbed a pass from John Ittounas and fired from the left wing, beyond the arc, only to see the ball hit the rim and roll off as time expired.
"That's a shot that's going to haunt me the rest of my life," said Ambrose, whose back-to-back dagger 3-pointer late in the fourth had the Patriots up 42-38 with 2:39 left. "It was right there. It was a couple of inches off. I really wish I could have hit that."
No matter, this year's Patriots were a team to remember, much like the squad that went downstate 12 years ago. Both teams, coincidentally, won 27 games. They never quit, they believed in each other and played team basketball as well as any team in the state. You can look it up.
"(Did we) overachieve?" Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said of his 2018-19 team. "We put a lot of expectations on these kids. They do a great job. ... The expectations are high all the time."
The Patriots like it that way. Senior point guard Luke Chieng called the Patriots "not the greatest speed team" and "not the strongest team," but they more than held their own against an Evanston team with superior athleticism. Stevenson even overcame blowing a 26-16 halftime lead, as the Patriots committed an uncharacteristic 12 turnovers in the third quarter in getting outscored 18-4.
That belief in itself and resiliency are traits of great teams.
"We always believe," said Matthew Ambrose, who had 11 points (three 3-pointers) and 9 rebounds. "We have so many hard workers in that locker room. We're a young team of mainly juniors, but those seniors mean so much to us. Just the way that they carried us. They're leaders. We'll never forget this group. It's such a selfless group. Everyone was in it for the team."
Chieng, who scored a team-high 12 points, was the only senior who played for the Patriots against Evanston. He'll be missed along with fellow seniors Jack Xiao, Kyree Lewis, Houston Bolton III, Brendan Coburn and Ethan Kolesky.
"We had a really successful summer, and we had a really bright future ahead of us after that," Chieng said. "We kept improving at a rapid rate, and the sky was the limit for us."
They nearly reached it.
• Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeAguilar64