Grayslake Central headed home after beating Lakes
That old playoff adage/ultimatum, "Win or go home," did not apply at Lakes on Friday night.
Lakes and Grayslake Central battled in Lake Villa for a Class 3A boys basketball regional championship, with the winner advancing to a Grayslake Central sectional semifinal Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
GC's Rams get to go home -- but as victors and future hosts, not as defeated hoopsters having to reflect and turn in their uniforms next week.
"We're going home after a playoff game, and you know what? That's a good thing in our case," thrilled Rams coach Brian Centella said after his second-seeded club defeated sixth-seeded Lakes 48-38 for its second consecutive regional title.
"I would have been sad had I been only able to watch our school's sectional games as a spectator."
Grayslake Central (27-5) will welcome seventh-seeded St. Viator on March 1. Viator upset host and third-seeded Deerfield 62-58 in a regional final Friday night.
"We love playing at home, especially in front of our student section," said Rams senior guard Michael Monahan, who took a pivotal charge deep in the lane with 1 minute left in the fourth quarter and his squad up 43-38.
There's a lot to love about familiar hardwood.
GC hasn't lost a home game in 2022-23.
Monahan hasn't played in a high school game in which he didn't seek to spark his colleagues by standing firmly and absorbing the force of an aggressive offensive player.
"That's what he does," Centella said of Monahan's fearless 'D.'
What Rams senior Sam Cooper likes to do, often: hit clutch 3-pointers. The 6-foot-2 guard turned into Lake County's version of Steph Curry, striking for 10 of his 13 first-half points in the second quarter, as GC built a 26-17 advantage.
He finished with a game-high 18 points, 12 from 3-point territory.
"Energy, a lot of energy, helped us tonight," Cooper said, downplaying his hot hand. "And we made stops when we had to make them.
"Huge," he added. "That charge (Monahan) took there at the end was huge."
Lakes (21-8), which had split its two Northern Lake County Conference games with Grayslake Central this winter, trailed only 39-38 with 2:41 remaining in the fourth frame after 3 consecutive free throws from senior guard Cade Primack (team-high 10 points, 5 rebounds).
But the Eagles wouldn't find twine again.
Rams senior forward Jake Gibson (12 points, 6 boards, 3 blocks, 4 fouls) tallied a field goal 18 seconds later, and the visitors scored their final 7 points via freebies, 5 off the hands of GC senior guard Dennis Estepp (10 points).
"That's such a good team, Lakes," Centella said. "We thought it would be a dogfight, and it was. Two quality teams, going at it and playing their hearts out in a rubber match.
"Our guys stayed composed and made their free throws."
Lakes' guys, before a packed audience, shot out to a 10-2 lead in the first 3-plus minutes on their home floor Friday night.
GC then took control by outscoring Lakes 19-7 in the second stanza.
But Lakes, no surprise, refused to wilt. Eagles senior Brock Marino (8 points, game-high 8 rebounds) swished a pair of free throws at the start of the fourth quarter, and senior guard Tyson Dewey (5 points) connected from beyond the arc to pare GC's gap to 37-34 at the 6:06 mark.
"Fitting," Lakes coach Chris Snyder said of the taut nature of the contest. "We fought; Grayslake Central fought. We wish Grayslake Central the best. That's a team that will represent our conference well at the sectional.
"This hurts, now," he added. "Our guys, though, will wake up Saturday morning and be proud of our 21-win season and the energy they brought to every game."
Lakes junior guard James Kania scored 7 points.
GC junior guard Jayden Hall came down with 5 boards.