Thrice as nice, again, for Libertyville
Three has been a lucky number for Libertyville's boys basketball team during the Class 4A playoffs.
The Wildcats opened the playoffs by knocking off Zion-Benton for the third time this season.
They defeated Warren for the third time in the regional title game.
And then, on Wednesday night, the Wildcats added North Suburban Conference rival Stevenson to the growing 3-list.
In keeping with their theme in the playoffs, the Wildcats advanced to the next round thanks to a 3-pointer.
Junior guard Jack Huber drained a 3-pointer with 35.7 seconds left, then added a pivotal blocked shot to lift the second-seeded Wildcats to a thrilling 45-41 win over the third-seeded Patriots in a Barrington sectional semifinal.
The Wildcats (27-7) advance to play top-seeded Barrington in Friday's 7 p.m. sectional championship game. The Wildcats cherished the rare three-game season sweep over the Patriots (20-9) thanks to Huber's big plays in the final seconds on offense and defense.
"This playoff season has felt like a North Suburban Conference tournament," Libertyville coach Brian Zyrkowski said. "We beat Zion-Benton and Warren and now Stevenson for the third time. I'm proud of our guys. They battled it out between two good basketball teams. Every possession tonight mattered. We hit some big shots down the stretch, so did they."
Huber, the younger brother of former Libertyville standout guard Lauren Huber, sank the game winning 3-pointer from 24-feet in front of the Wildcats' bench. Twenty-seconds later, the 6-foot-3 Huber blocked a shot to set up teammate Will Buchert's 2 free throws with 9 seconds left. Huber was on fire all game, canning 4 3s for 14 points. Buchert made 3 free throws in the final 9 seconds for 12 points and Aidyn Boone contributed 10 points and 9 rebounds.
Ironically, Huber had to switch jerseys against the Patriots, donning No. 30 instead of his customary No. 22.
"It was a tight game the whole way and I thought we just persevered and played hard the whole game and the shots fell when we needed them," Huber said. "It's great to beat Stevenson three times. We know that rarely happens."
The Patriots still managed to make the most of their playoff experience, helping wipe away part of the residue from missing a chance to compete for a state title in 2020. Two years ago, the Patriots were slated to play Mundelein in an epic rematch of conference foes in the Prospect sectional championship game, only to have the IHSA cancel the remainder of the playoffs due to the pandemic. Although the Patriots missed a chance to advance to this year's sectional championship game, they won a regional title behind a solid group of seniors. Junior forward Josh Thomas led them with 13 points and senior guard Evan Porto had 10 points.
The Patriots lost the ball on a turnover on their final possession to miss an opportunity for a game-tying 3-pointer.
"We gave great effort and had some great wins, like beating Prospect, so I'm really proud of them," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose. "Our senior guards really worked hard. They played a lot, guys like Andy Wang, Tate Donica, Jaden Evans and Evan Porto. They did a great job all season. Libertyville made big plays at the end. The big plays get highlighted because that's the last one in your memory banks. You give them credit. They beat us three times."
Stevenson opened the game intent on avenging its two regular-season losses to the Wildcats, burying three straight 3-pointers in an 11-0 run to lead 13-2. The Wildcats, who shot 2-for-9 in the first quarter, slowly started chopping down the deficit in the second quarter. Boone's energy and rebounding were key factors, along with Buchert's six early points that helped the Wildcats seize a 22-21 lead at halftime.
Stevenson led on two occasions in the fourth quarter before the Wildcats closed the game out on a 6-0 run.
"We held our ground and our guys kept their poise and made key stops at the end of the game and made smart plays," Zyrkowski said.