ROMEOVILLE – When two young boys basketball teams meet in a preliminary game of a regional tournament, the winner draws a tough opponent but, more importantly, gets some valuable experience that should benefit it in the future.
Lincoln-Way Central and Romeoville met Monday for the chance to face Bolingbrook in Tuesday’s Class 4A Romeoville Regional semifinals, and their game went down to the wire.
While Lincoln-Way’s Knights put themselves in a position to win the game with a minute remaining, the Spartans made more big plays down the stretch to help them claim a 32-27 victory.
Both coaches saw moments of unpredictability that go along with having so much inexperience on the court, but neither side could fault their players’ efforts.
“Getting the win is the most important thing,” Spartans coach Marc Howard said. “This was our first win in a regional since I’ve been here, so I’m happy about that, but I’m not happy with how we played. I think we were 5 for 20 from the field in the first half and missed a lot of easy gimmes. We have to have those tomorrow if we want to be in the game.
“Losing Dwayne Griffin, a senior leader, really hurt, so now we’re very young since we had to bring up two or three more freshmen. When we first came out, it looked like we were ready, but then the energy level faded. But [Lincoln-Way Central] coach [Bob] Curran’s game plan was right on point. We wanted this opportunity to play ‘Brook, which is an excellent team, to see what it’s like.”
The Spartans (9-18) took a 22-20 lead into the final quarter, but the Knights (4-21) quickly tied the score on a layup by Brendan Flynn (four points) before London Stamps (12 points) countered with a jumper a short time later.
Central moved to within 24-23 with 4:41 left when Aaron Michalak (11 points) hit a free throw and then it moved in front by a point with 3:28 remaining when Michalak added two more charity tosses.
Stamps made a layup with 90 seconds left to give his team a 26-25 lead, but Michalak countered with a jumper 21 seconds later to give the Knights their final lead at 27-26.
Chuck Hunter (eight points) put the Spartans in front for good with 51 seconds left when he made a layup and Stamps added four more free throws down the stretch, sealing the win with a pair of tosses with seven seconds remaining.
“The kids fought hard and kept the game at a tempo where we kind of felt we needed to have it to win the game,” Knights coach Bob Curran said. “But we were kind of plagued by the same things that hurt us all year, some missed free throws and layups and some turnovers at crucial times. We’ve seen that all year, but we executed a little better.
“I told them at halftime that if we could have put ourselves in more of these situations throughout the year, maybe we could have handled it a little better. We started playing better down the stretch, so I started feeling better about things, but sometimes that happens with youth. Everybody’s coming back but one, and we have great kids.”
Romeoville, which led 13-12 at halftime, got five points from DeAndre Heckard, four points from Malik Gaston and three points from Matt Cappelletti. Central also received five points from senior Luke Newtoff and three points from Jarret Gmazel and Mitch Kwasigroch.