By Joe Henricksen
Whether it's two classes, four classes or any decade of your choosing, last night at East Aurora was what high school basketball in Illinois is all about. It doesn't get any better.
The great old East High gym was sold out, steamy hot, electric and deafening, with the state's best team--unbeaten and nationally ranked Benet Academy--squaring off with the state's most dominating player, East Aurora's Ryan Boatright, in sectional warfare.
There wasn't a single thing missing in this perfect example of March Madness, including two teams that played about as intense of a game as you will ever see at this level.
In the end, the Boat Show was again the talk of the night as the Tomcats rolled to a 17-point lead and fought off Benet's furious comeback attempt in a memorable upset for the ages.
This was an unbeaten Benet team that had knocked off mighty Simeon before 8,000-plus fans, cruised to an East Suburban Catholic Conference championship and went 4-0 en route to a Proviso West Holiday Tournament title behind two Big Ten players in David Sobolewski and Frank Kaminsky.
And this was an East Aurora team that has played the postseason without its second best player, Snoop Viser (aside from brief appearances in the Benet game), lacks height and lost three straight games in January to Metea Valley, Bartlett and Elgin.
But it's March. And East Aurora has Boatright.
With Boatright, it's not just about his scoring numbers that generate the headlines; if there were style points awarded to a player's production, Boatright would lead the state--and probably in tall tales told by fans leaving the gym as they call and text their buddies about Boat's exploits.
While Boatright will put points on the board more quickly than anyone else in the state, there are so many overlooked and underrated ways he impacts a game.
He gets an opposing defense completely out of sync. Team defenses put so much energy and concentration in stopping Boatright and knowing where he is on the floor, they lose focus, are constantly scrambling and out of position. Even missed East Aurora shots lead to easy put-backs due to defensive doors revolving
And with Boatright, East Aurora has the game's best closer and momentum changer. Just when you think there isn't enough left in the tank, the Boat Show offers up one last scene. He is an opposing team's run killer. It's nearly impossible for an opponent to put together a big, momentum-changing run against East Aurora, because containing Boatright for more than three trips down the floor is nearly impossible.
Although Boatright is the obvious show, East Aurora is advancing to Friday's sectional championship due to a fantastic team defensive effort against Benet. East Aurora was as disciplined defensively as they've been all season. Wendell Jeffries' club harassed Benet's perimeter threats, made them work extremely hard and, most impressively, the undersized Tomcats kept Benet big man Frank Kaminsky out of the lane and basically a non-factor for most the game.
Benet, meanwhile, is left stunned after winning 29 straight games and gaining statewide and national attention. No one will know for sure what kind of potential negative impact the notoriety, the state's No. 1 ranking and unbeaten record had on this team as it headed into March.
While the near-stunning defeat to Naperville North in the regional final could be blamed on Benet having its worst shooting performance in two years and playing its worst game of the season, Tuesday night at East Aurora was a different Benet team. The Redwings, throughout the first 16 minutes of play, didn't appear to be themselves. Benet looked tight, out of sorts and, uncharacteristically, fighting to gain the composure they always seem to possess. That led to an early double-digit deficit that ballooned to 17 points in the second half and was ultimately the difference in the game.
Yes, the run ended sooner than expected for a Benet team that put together two magical seasons. And a fan base and group of players that had dreams of playing in Peoria is left stunned--in different ways--for the second straight year. But the Hoops Report can't think of a team in the past two decades that maximized the absolute most out of its nucleus and talent, had a bigger fan following and enjoyed more fun and success than Benet. That's not what they will remember today, tomorrow or even next week or month, but it's what will be cherished 5, 10 and 20 years from now.
For another Hoops Report read on Ryan Boatright, go to The Boat Show.