By Joe Henricksen
We are one week closer to Peoria for Class 4A and 3A teams, while Seton Academy and Providence St. Mel are set to tangle Tuesday night in a Class 2A supersectional at Joliet Central. The upsets were minimal in regional title matchups this past Friday, but the City/Suburban Hoops Reports provides some thoughts on all that went down.
Biggest Class 4A Upset
• Marist over Curie
While the Hoops Report's regional shocker prediction last week was Marist over Curie, this is still a Curie team that rolled through the regular season with 24 wins, reached the title game at both the Pontiac Holiday Tournament and the city playoffs while losing just two games all season -- to No. 1 ranked Simeon. There was a reason the Hoops Report had Marist ranked No. 14 in the preseason. Coach Gene Nolan's club showed why Friday night, beating Curie in a 63-62 thriller.
Biggest Class 3A Upset
• Wheaton St. Francis over Orr
This had danger written all over it for an Orr team that was the No. 1 seed in the state's deepest 3A sectional. The long trip to the western suburbs for Orr and a tough atmosphere with a St. Francis crowd played a part in St. Francis stunning Orr, 39-36. Give credit to a St. Francis team, led by 1,000-point scorer Ryan Coyle, for slowing the tempo and keeping a Chicago Public League Red-West team to just 36 points. Now coach Bob Ward's team will have to do it against another Red-West foe, Crane, in the sectional semis Tuesday night.
Has Thornton basketball ever played the role of Cinderella? After an uncharacteristic 10-15 regular season, coach Troy Jackson's Wildcats are the lowest seeded team remaining in the 4A field. Thornton knocked off Shepard, upset No. 4 seed Crete-Monee and No. 5 seed Joliet West to claim the program's 10th consecutive regional title. Now the Wildcats, the No. 13 seed, will take aim at top-seeded Bloom on Tuesday night.
St. Joseph survived a big scare from Glenbard South in the regional semis, winning 68-65, before battling Farragut in an overtime win to secure coach Gene Pingatore's 28th regional championship. The Chargers, however, were well prepared for these two tight regional games. In 12 of St. Joseph's final 14 regular-season games, the outcomes were decided by seven or fewer points.
Throw out the records
There are only two teams remaining in Class 3A with losing records -- Aurora Central Catholic and Johnsburg. And one is guaranteed to advance to the sectional final as the two will meet Wednesday night in one Sycamore Sectional semifinal. ACC battled injuries all season and played a competitive schedule, which led to a 9-17 regular-season record, but beat rival Marmion in the regional semis and then stunned Yorkville on a Joey McEachern buzzer-beater in the regional championship. Johnsburg entered regional play with just eight victories on the year, but knocked off Richmond-Burton 36-32 in the regional title game.
Other regional thoughts ...
■ The performance turned in by Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor in Friday's win over St. Rita was flat-out dominating and at another level. He demanded so much attention, yet the 6-10 manchild continued to produce over and over when the Dolphins needed it in a hard-fought 64-56 victory. You left the gym shaking your head and saying, "He's a sophomore?" With the 6-10 Okafor, 6-9 Paul White, 6-6 Nate Brooks and both 6-8 Jermaine Morgan and 6-9 Tommy Hamilton back playing, has there ever been a high school team with more size?
■ Wow, what a difference a couple of weeks can make at this time of the year. Crane was playing some uninspired basketball down the stretch. In the final month of the regular season, Crane lost to DuSable and was blown out by Curie (68-29), Young (45-29) and Orr (70-45). Now? This team is rejuvenated. Coach Chris Head took his Cougars into Riverside-Brookfield and beat the host school to claim a regional championship. With a blue-collar, veteran talent like Willie Conner, a super sophomore in Isaiah Hayes, along with some re-built confidence, Crane is now favored to beat upstart Wheaton St. Francis in the sectional semis.
■ While it's not the glory days of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Providence Catholic's quiet 15-win season got a whole lot louder Friday night. Providence Catholic has had such a high level of success in baseball, football and wrestling, it's good to see the basketball program grab a little of the spotlight. The Celtics won just their sixth regional championship in the last three decades and have the most wins since 1998. Behind big man Mike Marietti and junior guard Kevin Kozan, Providence is 17-10 and will face top-seeded Hillcrest in the sectional semis.
■ When I spoke with De La Salle coach Tom White 24 hours prior to the regional championship game with Bogan, the veteran coach didn't think junior Alvin Ellis would even be able to play as a result of an ankle injury. Ellis persevered, played and poured in 42 points in a losing effort. Impressive.
■ This was supposed to be a rebuilding year in Park Ridge for a Maine South basketball program that has won 50 games the past two seasons. But coach Tony Lavorato's has built a mindset and a special style of play that translates to consistency. So here the Hawks are in early March with 19 wins and a regional championship after upsetting a red-hot St. Patrick team. Since the middle of January, a stretch where Maine South has gone 12-3, only three opponents have scored more than 50 points against the Hawks. And in the last three wins, Maine South is allowing a paltry 36 points a game.
■ You want a well coached team? Check out Schaumburg. Coach Matt Walsh is one of the better young coaches in the Chicago area. Since taking over for highly-successful Bob Williams, Walsh, whose teams play with poise, patience, discipline and in-your-face defensive pressure, has now guided the Saxons to three straight regional championships. Schaumburg has reached the sectional title game each of the past two seasons but are looking for its first sectional championship under Walsh.
■ Speaking of Schaumburg, how about the defensive effort turned in by the Saxons in the regional championship game victory over Conant. The Saxons led 17-0 after one quarter, limiting Conant to one field goal attempt while forcing eight turnovers.
■ The biggest surprise score in a regional final didn't come in an upset, but rather in Proviso East's 51-48 win over Glenbard North, which isn't a team blessed with the type of guards to handle the Pirates' constant pressure. But give Glenbard North (15-13) credit in hanging around with unbeaten Proviso East.
■ Although Plainfield East, Downers Grove South and Metea Valley all had close calls in regional play -- each of the top three seeds won games by either one or two points -- all top four seeds in the East Aurora Sectional advanced to this week's sectional semis. That's the only Class 4A sectional where each of the top four seeds made it through regional play.
■ Centralia 22, Mt. Vernon 15? Regional final score? Really?
■ Congratulations to Elmwood Park guard Julian Molina, who scored 28 points in a regional title game loss to North Chicago. Molina finished his career as Elmwood Park's all-time leading scorer and rebounder.
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