West Aurora completes stunning regional run
The state boys basketball gods certainly rewarded one of their most tradition-rich communities Friday night.
Only minutes apart in Class 4A regional action, two of the fiercest rivals in Illinois history, West and East Aurora, earned championship verdicts at home and Oswego East, respectively.
As a result, the programs' first sectional collision in 20 years will take place Wednesday.
West Aurora, behind the superlative all-around play of Kevin Balfour, rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat Plainfield Central 56-51.
The Blackhawks (11-19), the lowest remaining seed in the state in the two largest classes at No. 14, will face the ninth-seeded Tomcats (23-10), who stunned No. 2 Bolingbrook 79-72, in the schools' 229th meeting in Lockport.
Plainfield Central, the No. 11 seed, had its season come to an end at 17-14.
"I was just trying to do it all tonight," said Balfour, who had game highs of 26 points and 14 rebounds to propel West Aurora to its 43rd regional title in its illustrious history. "This is my last game on my home court, and I had to go out with a bang."
Plainfield Central broke free from a 23-23 halftime tie and never trailed in the second half in building a 39-34 lead on a Mekhi Lunford field goal to start the fourth quarter.
But West Aurora would respond with a vengeance, reeling off a 14-2 run to take a 48-41 lead on two Balfour free throws with two minutes, 14 seconds to play.
The Blackhawks' Axel Motola and midseason sophomore call-up Isaiah Siler hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give West Aurora the lead for good at 44-41.
Both players scored 5 points in the fourth quarter.
"(Coach Brian Johnson) looked at me and said, 'Shoot it,'" Siler said. "It gave me my confidence boost. I just felt it."
"I started off shooting poorly," said Motola, who matched starting post Paul Shavers' 8 points for West Aurora. "It was a great moment to make one."
Plainfield Central forwards Lunford and Joseph Edozie had carried the team with their 19- and 14-point efforts.
But the Wildcats were powerless to stop the Blackhawks' fourth-quarter run.
"We had a dry spell," Plainfield Central coach Gregg Bayer said. "When you have a dry spell, you have to be able to sustain (the lead) with some stops. They hit some tough shots. (Balfour) is a (heck) of a player. (The Blackhawks') offensive rebounding was a problem for us all night."
The Wildcats were able to force some late turnovers and score quickly to significantly tighten their deficit, but a potential game-tying 3-pointer missed its mark.
"Once it got shaky, coach just told us to calm down and keep our composure," Balfour said.