ROMEOVILLE – Playing in its biggest game ever, Lincoln-Way East’s basketball team did just what it wanted to do during the first half against favored West Aurora in Wednesday’s Class 4A Romeoville Sectional semifinals.
The only problem was that although the Griffins’ plan of attack of getting the Blackhawks in foul trouble was effective, coach Rich Kolimas’ squad trailed, 30-28, at halftime.
West opened things up in the third quarter and then withstood a late rally by East to win, 70-58, to advance to Friday’s 7 p.m. sectional championship against Bolingbrook.
The Griffins (23-6), who enjoyed their most successful season in wins and captured the first regional title in the school’s 17-year history, were up against a storied program that had won 10 regionals, six sectionals and 130 more games than East in that same 17-year span.
But while East was enjoying a breakthrough year, the Blackhawks (24-4) also are on a roll, having won 16 in a row since suffering their last defeat, which came at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. In Friday’s title game, West hopes to avenge an 85-66 sectional semifinal loss that it suffered a year ago against Bolingbrook.
East graduates seven seniors, several of whom have played a major role in helping to set a strong foundation for future teams. After winning 20 games for the first time a year ago, they increased their win total and also added their first postseason tournament title.
Leading the Griffins on Wednesday were four of those seniors. Sam Shafer led the way with 22 points, Joey Buggemi added 13 points, Zach Parduhn scored nine points and Brandon Petkoff chipped in with seven points.
“First, we’ve known these guys since fourth grade, and this is home-grown,” Kolimas said. “So these kids have been developing their skills for a long time with us, and we’re extremely proud of how far they’ve come. Secondly, Roger Bannister just passed away, so we talked about that. He broke the four-minute mile, remember that? After he broke the four-minute mile, great things happened, so we’re hoping that this opens the door for us, and we continue to have success in our basketball program.”
Obviously, there’s good reason why coach Brian Johnson’s Blackhawks have performed so well in the 2018 portion of the schedule. Despite having two of their top players in quick foul trouble, several others stepped up to lead the way to stave off East’s comeback attempt.
Damian Virgen led the winners with 21 points, Traevon Brown added 17 points and Benjamin Young had 16 points. The squad’s top scorers this season, Camron Donatlan (10 points) and Jared Crutcher (four points) sat for much of the game with foul troubles.
But even though the Griffins connected on 23 of 25 free-throw attempts, West capitalized on a 13-3 rebounding advantage in the third quarter to help it gain control.
The Blackhawks took a 47-36 lead into the final quarter and led by double digits most of the rest of the way before Shafer briefly provided some hope for the Griffins when he was fouled on a successful 3-point basket, and then made the subsequent free throw for a four-point play to pull his team to within 58-52 with 1:58 remaining.