Barszcz bails out Vernon Hills, student fans
Jack Barszcz delivered buckets with a soft touch all night for Vernon Hills' basketball team.
Vernon Hills' student fans nearly delivered a kiss of death.
What mattered most for the Cougars at the end of Wednesday night's Class 3A regional semifinal at North Chicago was one thing.
They were still alive in the state tournament.
Behind Barszcz's 30 points and 13 rebounds, Vernon Hills held off Ridgewood 50-48 to advance to Friday's 7 p.m. regional final against top-seeded Notre Dame (27-5).
"We're excited to play [Friday night]," Vernon Hills guard Tony Brown said after totaling 9 points and 4 steals. "We love competition. We've played against some of the best competition in the state with Niles North and New Trier, so I think we're prepared for it."
No. 9 Vernon Hills (15-17) was far from blowing out No. 8 Ridgewood (14-15), despite leading 43-31 after Barszcz drained a left-corner 3-pointer with 2:56 left in the third quarter. Moments later, Vernon Hills' student fans started the "This game is over" chant.
Almost on cue, Ridgewood's Perlat Velaj nailed a long 3, and the Rebels started heating up. Barszcz's putback beat the third-quarter buzzer to extend the Cougars' lead to 45-36, but Ridgewood scored the first 10 points of the fourth to take a 46-45 lead with 4:48 left.
Vernon Hills' student fans were silent.
Kevin Czyzewski scored 7 of his team-high 16 points in the fourth for the Rebels, and Ross Bloecker helped limit Barszcz to only 2 shots after the Cougars' 6-foot-5 senior had 28 points through three.
" (Bloecker) was doing a good job, and they were doing a good job the whole game trying to deny me," said Barszcz, who had 19 points at halftime. "It was nice to have my teammates be able to dribble around and figure out how to navigate the game at the end."
Barszcz's's putback with 2:56 left snapped a 48-48. Neither team scored again.
"I was emailing back and forth with (Libertyville) Coach (Brian) Zyrkowski today," Vernon Hills coach Matt McCarty said. "He was wishing me good luck, after I was telling him good luck [Libertyville plays Zion-Benton at Warren on Friday], and I said, 'Tonight, I just want to win by one point,' I knew it was going to come down to a last possession. It always does with Ridgewood. We've had great history with them in the state tournament. Chris' teams (Coach Chriz Mroz) are going to fight to the end, and I think I have a group that fights to the end.
"Two [points] is a blowout," McCarty joked.
Ridgewood had one final shot, but Jaden Williams missed a long, contested 3 at the buzzer, while being defended by Brown.
"It was an exciting play," Brown said. "All we're trying to do in that situation is stay in front and make them make a tough shot. I think we did that. Erik Rimas helped me on the screen. He put a hand up too, so it made it a really tough shot."
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Barszcz in the final minute of the first half had Vernon Hills up 33-29 at the break, after the Cougars trailed by two.
"They left me open a couple of times, and when I get left that wide open, I usually don't miss," Barszcz said. "It's nice to get a little space sometimes."
It was Barszcz's third 30-point effort of the season. He scored a career-high 33 against Oak Forest two days after Christmas and 31 on Senior Night against Lake View.
"He's been a man-child," McCarty said. "It's nice to have a guy that can step out on the arc and also [score] around the bucket."