ROMEOVILLE – Pinpointing the reasons for Lincoln-Way East’s 70-58 loss to West Aurora in Wednesday night’s Class 4A Romeoville Sectional semifinal may be a little more complicated than crediting the Blackhawks.
Of course, West Aurora was in the equation.
“That could have had something to do with it,” East coach Rich Kolimas said when asked whether the Griffins being in their first sectional game while West Aurora is one of the state’s most storied programs was a factor.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Kolimas said. “It is difficult to tell. They just played better than us.”
The Blackhawks (24-4), the No. 2 seed in the sectional, will face No. 1 Bolingbrook at 7 p.m. Friday for the sectional championship. East (23-6) finishes with a school record for victories in addition to its first regional title.
Things began to go south for the Griffins in the second quarter. It was not necessarily so on the scoreboard as West Aurora led, 30-28, at halftime, but it was a matter of East not finishing what it had started.
The Blackhawks’ two big guns, guard Camron Donatlan and forward Jared Crutcher, both sat out much of the second quarter with two fouls, but their teammates stepped up and kept the game close until they were able to return.
“I thought the second quarter was the key to the game,” Kolimas said. “We wanted to take charges and get their two main guys in foul trouble, and we did that.
“We got in the bonus early, and we’re an 82-percent free-throw-shooting team. Us not getting any kind of lead at that point speaks to how well-coached, how very disciplined and very athletic they are.”
East, in fact, made 9 of 10 free throws in the first half and 23 of 25 in the game – usually a key part of the recipe for success. But not this time.
“The most disappointing thing is this was not the team we saw all year,” Kolimas said. “Were we fatigued? I don’t know. Maybe. I shortened the bench toward the end of the season. But they just played better than us.”
“They pressured us into some mistakes,” East senior guard Zach Parduhn said, “but that’s not something we haven’t seen. Some things just did not go our way.”
Things certainly did not go the Griffins’ way in the third quarter, when the Blackhawks’ owned the backboards, 13-3, and stretched their lead to 40-30, then 47-34 and finally 47-36 at the break.
“It felt like we were slow, not moving as much on offense as we should in the first half,” said East’s main man, 6-foot-6 senior Sam Shafer, who closed his brilliant high school career with a 22-point, eight-rebound effort. “We were forcing some things.
“Our game plan was to get them in foul trouble and take some charges and get them out of their game. We went zone in the third quarter, and sometimes in a zone, it’s hard to get rebounds on the weak side.”
“We decided we needed to go with a smaller lineup in the third quarter and maybe create some turnovers off our traps,” Kolimas said. “A brilliant decision on my part.”
Shafer scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, 17 in the second half. His four-point play with 1:58 left got the Griffins within 58-52, but they never got closer.
Senior guard Joey Buggemi joined Shafer in double figures for East with 13 points. Parduhn chipped in nine, and Brandon Petkoff had seven.
Donatlan and Crutcher, who average about 34 points between them, managed a combined 16 thanks in part to their foul trouble. However, the other three starters all devastated the Griffins. Damian Virgen finished with 21 points, Traevon Brown with 17 and Benjamin Young with 16.
West Aurora outrebounded East, 27-24, and forced 15 turnovers while committing 10.
“They just played better than us,” Kolimas repeated.