Aldana, Saint Viator stun Notre Dame

By Bill McLean
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 3/5/2021 10:48 PM

Referees aren't supposed to be noticeable on game nights.

Friday night, in a boys basketball game in Arlington Heights, official Bill Orris failed spectacularly to blend in -- but that was a good thing.


Orris sang the national anthem heartily before the start of an East Suburban Catholic Conference game between highly regarded Notre Dame and host Saint Viator.

"That," Viator sophomore guard Eli Aldana would say after the game, "was solid."

But they're singing Saint Viator's praises today. Statewide. The gritty Lions -- down 26-18 at the half and 40-29 early in the fourth quarter -- stunned the formidable Dons 47-46. The 5-foot-11 Aldana capped his 20-point night by scoring the final points of the game on a driving, slithering layup with only 5 ticks remaining.

Louis Lesmond, Notre Dame's 6-5 senior guard, was in the lane at the time of the clincher. So was 6-7 forward Troy D'Amico.

"Draw up a play for Eli?" first-year Saint Viator coach Michael O'Keeffe said after his team limited Notre Dame to one field goal in the final frame and improved to 5-2, 4-2 in the ESCC. "No. I just told him, 'Go out there and win the game for us.' That's what he did. Eli is a stud, a hooper.

"The last 48 hours, we told our guys they had nothing to lose against Notre Dame. Nothing. We've looked like a great team, at times, this year. Other times, we've looked young and inexperienced ... like a team that lost five starters from last year's team."

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Notre Dame had entered the action Friday night with only one loss, to Mundelein, and downed all seven of its ESCC foes. Several times during the first half, the visitors appeared poised to earn a comfy separation. But Viator never wilted and never knocked its collective knees, despite tallying only 2 points in the first 6:23 of the second quarter.

Two resounding Notre Dame dunks in the third quarter -- separated by 30 seconds -- didn't faze the hosts, either.

"Our coach has been so good about stressing to us, 'Never give up,' " said Aldana, who outscored Notre Dame 9-8 in the final 8 minutes, including a pair of treys; his final 3-pointer of the night cut Notre Dame's advantage to 46-45 with 45 seconds left.

O'Keeffe called a timeout with 16 seconds remaining, setting up Aldana's fearless venture among trees in sneakers.

Lesmond (12 points), in the final possession, got a good look as the clock raced toward 0:00, but his jumper from near the free-throw line hit the back of the rim and soared due north.

Senior guard Aidan Harrington (three 3-pointers) and senior forward Connor Benson each netted 11 points for Viator. Harrington also came down with a team-high 5 rebounds.

Senior guard Anthony Sayles scored 12 points for the Dons (12-2, 7-1), with his final 2 -- Notre Dame's lone bucket of the stanza -- coming at the 5:20 mark. Viator yielded only 3 free throws the rest of the way.

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