Kochera's game-winner puts St. Viator in sectional title game
For now, the coronavirus hasn't stopped fans from seeing the Class 3A Grayslake North boys basketball sectional.
And it sure would have been a shame had they not been able to see Wednesday's frenetic finish in overtime between East Suburban Catholic Conference rivals St. Viator and St. Patrick.
"This is what you live for," St. Viator senior guard Connor Kochera said. "All those years of hard work, and it comes down to the last play. I wouldn't want it any other way. This is exciting. This is fun. This is basketball in March."
Kochera had a "shining moment" worthy of March when he drove in for a layup with about 30 seconds left to play in overtime.
St. Patrick called a timeout moments later and set up for a final play. But the St. Viator defense held strong and a St. Patrick shot at the buzzer fell short. That allowed the Lions, seeded third in the sectional, to escape with a 53-52 sectional semifinal win over No. 2 St. Patrick.
St. Viator, which got a game-high 23 points from Kochera, will now face top-seeded Notre Dame at 7 p.m. on Friday for the sectional championship.
"That was a great effort by all of our guys in a commitment to the game plan. They followed it to an absolute T," St. Viator coach Quin Hayes said. "Our guys knew they could win and confidence is everything. And when you have confidence and you add Connor Kochera, you can accomplish amazing things.
"He kind of took over that game at the end there for us and got us that victory. He did not want to go home tonight. And that was true of all of our seniors. They weren't done. Still work to be done. That was a herculean effort by all of them."
The win for St. Viator avenges an earlier regular season loss to St. Patrick.
But a bigger part of the unfinished business for the Lions (22-9) is that last year, they lost in the sectional championship game. The seniors in particular remember that disappointment, and they wanted another crack at a sectional championship this year.
Another senior, Jack Mahoney, had a big game for St. Viator. He finished with 9 points, all on 3-pointers, including a big 3-pointer in the overtime. Mahoney was injured and did not play in the Lions' previous meeting with St. Patrick.
Seniors Owen Hickey and Michael Huene added 4 points apiece while freshman Eli Aldana scored 9 points.
"The season continues, senior year continues," Kochera said. "That's all I could ask for."
St. Viator was up by as many as 14 points in the second quarter, but St. Patrick made a 6-0 run before the half ended to cut its deficit to 8 points (26-18) at halftime. The Shamrocks then ran off an 11-5 run at the beginning of the third quarter and with about 2 minutes left in the period, they had tied the game.
Senior guard Dominic Galati, who had just 5 points in the first half, had a big second half and ended with a team-high 16 points. He hit a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left in regulation to tie the game and force overtime.
He also had two big baskets in the overtime and took St. Patrick's last shot, which could have been a game-winner, but it was just off.
"This is hard," Galati said. "I've been doing this for so long and I love the game so much and now, it's just come to an end like this."
Sophomore guard Timaris Brown added 13 points for St. Patrick and junior forward Michael Hamilton had 10 points.