Kochera, St. Viator down Grayslake North
After his team's season-ending home win over Nazareth one week ago, St. Viator boys basketball coach Quin Hayes offered a postseason prospectus of his Lions chances in the Class 3A Grayslake North sectional complex that has his third-seeded squad sandwiched around top-seeded Notre Dame, No. 2 St. Patrick, No. 4 Carmel, and 19-game winner Deerfield among the top five seeds.
"Obviously people are looking at Notre Dame, but we're taking it one game at a time," Hayes said. "We feel good because we're playing good basketball at the right time. We're trending upwards so that's always a good thing for any team come playoff time."
The Lions entered postseason play Tuesday night at the Fenton regional against a Grayslake North team that came into the contest winners in 4 of its last 5, including an 18-point win over Steinmetz in Monday night's play-in game.
The Lions responded to the 14th-seeded Knights' challenge with a 58-43 win that sends them back to Bensenville for Friday's regional final against the winner of Wednesday's semifinal between 11th seeded Mather (13-15) and No. 6 Fenton (20-11).
It also marked the third consecutive season and seventh in the past 11 that the Lions (20-9) have reached that plateau.
"We played well at times, other times we didn't play well at all," Hayes said. "We cleaned up our turnovers, but then we weren't getting stops. It was a tale of two halves. We were happy to get away with the win."
In getting the win Viator slowly pulled away from Grayslake North late in the first half as senior guard Connor Kochera (31 points) scored 4 straight points on a pair of free throws and a rebound putback that gave the Lions a 27-16 edge at halftime.
The William & Mary recruit then tallied the first 11 Lion points of the second half that featured a pair of layups off assists from fellow senior Michael Campagna (9 points) and a 3-pointer that left the Lions up 38-20 with 4:49 left in the third.
"I knew coming into the game I had to come out and be aggressive," said Kochera, who also scooped up 8 rebounds. "It was a little bit closer than we wanted especially going into halftime and I told myself that I had to take over the game and create distance between us."
Grayslake North (12-19) got within 46-37 on senior Jeremy Rowder's second 3 of the night that capped a 10-4 run with 5:57 to play. Rowder finished with 8 points.
Kochera would then score on consecutive drives to the hoop to complete an 8-0 that settled matters with 3:52 remaining.
Freshman guard Dominic Jankowski's 12 led the Knights followed by senior forward Jason Donohue with 10. Fellow senior Jamon Thomas also added 8 in the losing cause for North.