JOLIET – At the start of the Class 4A Joliet West Regional title game on Friday, Lemont jumped to a quick 9-2 lead just two and a half minutes into the contest but that start would be the only time it led as Oswego East won its second regional title by a 67-59 score.
The Wolves (23-7) used a 10-0 run to grab a 12-9 led with 1:52 left in the initial quarter, then took a 14-11 lead on the third basket in the quarter by Sam Schultz (12 points, eight rebounds) with 34 seconds left. The Indians' Lucas Rekasius hit a three at the buzzer to knot the game at 14-14 entering the second quarter.
During that 9-2 start for Lemont, Nate Ferguson hit a three to start the game and ended the run with a basket, but the hand writing was on the wall of the game plan for Oswego East.
The tandem of Tremont Brewer and Jalen Tucker, both juniors, were assigned to guard Ferguson and not let him touch the ball. They were glued to the Lemont big man so that he never got a chance to catch the ball, let alone shoot. Brewer picked up two fouls on the assignment, then it was Tucker's turn.
"We knew Ferguson was a great player and our game plan was on point," East coach Ryan Velasquez said. "I'm just glad our kids believed in it and they executed it so well tonight."
With the win, the Wolves advance to Tuesday's 7:30 p.m. Class 4A East Aurora Sectional semifinals, where they face Waubonsie Valley, who captured a 61-47 victory over Plainfield North in the Class 4A Andrew Regional title game.
The other problem in the second quarter was that Lemont (16-15) could not hit an open three-pointer. The opportunities were there as the Indians only made two field goals in the quarter and trailed 27-19 with four minutes left before half. Ferguson did hit four free throws down the stretch to make it a 29-23 lead for the Wolves at the break.
"I wish we could play that second quarter again," Lemont coach Rick Runaas said. "In that first half, we just couldn't get anything to fall."
The scoring for the Wolves came from senior guard Damari Grant, as his quickness on drives to the basket produced 12 first-half points, and he would end the game with 18 and the Wolves dominated the boards for the game, outrebounding Lemont 22-13.
The third quarter was all Oswego East as it built a 45-33 lead heading to the final frame, as proved to big inside as Kamron Battle (14 points, eight rebounds) scored six points in the quarter.
After Schultz hit a basket to open the final quarter for the Wolves to give them a 47 33 lead, the Indians came to life as Kyle Kostes buried two consecutive threes and the Edgars Zilys (12 points) scored the next seven Lemont points and East's lead was only 51-46 with 4:00 left.
Lemont cut the lead to four points twice, once at the 1:46 mark and again with 1:02 left, but Ray J Dennis hit four consecutive free throws and Brewer hit a pair to close out the scoring. The Indians missed shots on both occasions that would have made it closer.
Dennis ended the night with a quiet 16 points, but they all came when the Wolves needed them.
"Tonight was a total team effort," Velasquez said. "This is only the second time in school history we have won a regional and I'm so proud of these kids. This was our goal and it feels great. We now have the opportunity to move on and continue to play, this is exciting."
Ferguson ended the game and his Lemont career with 15 points and grabbed six rebounds.
"I told the team that we have to take satisfaction that we played our best basketball at the end of the season and that is what you want," Runaas said. "It's a credit to them as a team, because sometimes this late in the year kids just check out and you saw tonight these kids never quit and we were there in the fourth quarter, but just couldn't get the shot to fall."