Timothy tops R-B in OT, wins Metro Blue title
Josh Harris sat in the front row for Timothy Christian's team photo, smiled and raised one finger.
A year later, this was a finish to savor.
Harris, the Trojans' senior guard, knows well dueling emotions of March. Last season, he helped lead Timothy Christian to its first state tournament appearance since 1980. But the Trojans were unable to play in Peoria when the coronavirus pandemic canceled the state event.
With a dynamic duo of Harris and junior Ben VanderWal, Timothy Christian this season had another team capable of a deep playoff run, were the postseason not canceled. But Harris could still celebrate a championship.
Harris scored 25 points with 12 rebounds, VanderWal added 18 and 14 rebounds and Ben Jones hit the big 3-point shot in overtime, as the Trojans outlasted Riverside-Brookfield 62-56 to win the championship of the Metro Suburban Blue on Saturday in Riverside.
"We had this terrible pandemic that took so much away, but to come out here and finish off a conference title is just amazing," said Harris, an Illinois College commit. "We won something. Taking a state title away from us, not having state this year, to win the conference is like a state title to us."
The Trojans (14-2, 10-1) last season won the Metro Suburban Red championship, and moved to the Blue division this year where Riverside-Brookfield (11-2, 8-2) has long been a dominant force. The division title came down to the last day of the season, in a game worthy of a championship game.
Timothy Christian never trailed, pushing its lead into double figures on multiple occasions. But the Bulldogs kept coming, and Joevonn McCottry's corner 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left in regulation forced overtime.
"It is good consolation," Trojans coach Scott Plasier said. "If you had to script something out, knowing that there was no postseason, to be able to have the last week that we had where we get a chance to play for a conference championship against R-B, that has dominated our conference for the last I don't know how many years means is pretty special."
Neither team scored in overtime until Jones, who scored nine points but had made just one of his five 3-point attempts until then, hit a corner three for a 57-54 lead with 2:08 left that Timothy Christian wouldn't relinquish.
"That was huge," Plasier said. "He's probably the best shooter we have on our team. He didn't hardly get any looks, but he made the last one which was giant."
Riverside-Brookfield had two possessions for the lead in the fourth quarter and three more in overtime come up empty, but Bulldogs' coach Mike Reingruber could hardly complain about the effort. The Bulldogs trailed 16-7 early, and 30-19 late in the second quarter after a Harris dunk in transition. McCottry's 3-pointer cut capped a 7-0 run that cut 10-point margin to 39-36 with 4:27 left in the third quarter.
A Harris runner and a free throw pushed Timothy Christian back ahead 48-39 to start the fourth, but JP Hanley's basket and threes by Cory Baker and Michael Bloodgood got it back to 48-47 with five minutes left.
"Timothy punched us early, but I was proud of the mental toughness of our kids to stick with it and keep battling," Reingruber said. "I appreciate the effort, and a big shot by Joevonn there."
Nobody epitomized that effort more than Hanley, one of several juniors that make up the core of the Bulldogs' team. Hanley had 17 points and 18 rebounds, hitting several big shots when the Bulldogs needed them. Baker added 13 and McCottry 11.
"JP has been our go-to guy all year," Reingruber said. "He's a competitor and he wanted to win this game super bad, just like everybody else."
Harris capped off a decorated career with another sensational performance.
He scored 14 points in the first half, using his superior quickness and athleticism to get to the basket for driving scores or runners. Harris, who played all 36 minutes, missed four straight free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime, but came back to make two free throw later in the extra period.
"Legs were getting tight, I didn't come out, I just had to stay calm, breathe and take my time at the line," Harris said. "I knew coming in, my teammates told me don't settle for threes, take it to the basket. That's what I did today."
"What a career," Plasier said. "I don't know where he stands in career wins, but he has to be right up there. He's a winner, and when you have coachable kids like that that happen to be your best player, that helps big-time."