Valera's heroics lift Grayslake North over Grayslake Central in OT
It might have been a defensive struggle from start to finish when host Grayslake North met crosstown rival Grayslake Central in Northern Lake County Conference boys basketball showdown Friday night.
But you couldn't have asked for a more dramatic finish as Grayslake North senior Joseph Valera hit a game-winning shot from 15-feet out on the right wing as time expired to carry the Knights to an exciting 32-30 overtime victory over the stunned Rams.
There was a typical raucous crowd for this longtime rivalry as the Grayslake North student section stormed the court following Valera's last-second heroics. It was Valera's second career game-winning shot as he hit a 3-pointer at Antioch to beat the Sequoits last season.
"The shot was originally supposed to be for Dominic Jankowski. Obviously he didn't get the ball so I saw an open lane, I took it did a spin move, fade away and it went in," said Valera. "It's a big rivalry, you know. Obviously I know a lot of guys on their team. They've been talking a lot to us. Ultimately I was nervous but I'm glad we came through in the end."
Both teams had numerous chances to win late in the fourth quarter and in overtime as a layup by Grayslake Central's Jacob Gibson (game-high 17 points) tied the game at 27-27 with 17 seconds left in regulation. But Grayslake North (10-11, 4-3) never got a shot off as the Rams (15-10, 6-3) played tough defense to force the extra session.
"It wasn't how we drew it up. (Valera) wanted the last shot. He knew he had it, and he knocked it down," said Grayslake North coach Josh Feinzimer, whose team lost the first meeting 60-44.
"Since early in the season we've made great strides, and we've learned from where we started to where we are right now."
Jankowski had a team-high 10 points while teammate Jacob Donohue (9 points) hit a 3-pointer to give the Knights a 30-27 lead in overtime. Two free throws by Grayslake Central's Brendan Whalen forced a 30-30 tie with 28.5 seconds left in overtime before Valera (4 points) hit the game-winner to set off the wild celebration for the home team. Whalen wound up with 6 points while Ryan Page added 4 points for the Knights.
"Credit to Joe. He's a senior and he hit a big shot in a big spot. He's a really good player and he made a really big shot," said Grayslake Central coach Brian Centella, whose team led 21-19 after three quarters.
"Unfortunately I think we had our chances and the shots weren't falling. This game, for a lot of different reasons for our players it's emotional, they know each other, it's always a great crowd and they just made one more shot than us."