When I was asked before this basketball season about which boys teams in the area were going to be good, and if any had a chance to get to state, the answers were fairly evident.
Bolingbrook was the team that had the best chance to get to state. If not the Raiders, then maybe Joliet Central, and Lincoln-Way East promised to be good as well. Romeoville was a wild card, as the Spartans had the kind of talent that if they put it all together, they could make a state run.
The season for our area schools ended Friday night, when Bolingbrook dropped an 82-67 decision to West Aurora in the championship game of the Class 4A Romeoville Sectional. Although the game was closer than the final score suggests, there is no denying that on that night, the Blackhawks were the better team.
That sets up a supersectional Tuesday night at Illinois State University in Normal that should be a dandy as West Aurora (25-4), which has won 17 straight, will take on Belleville West (29-2), which has not lost to an Illinois opponent all season.
Bolingbrook (22-7) was hoping to get past the sectional final and the supersectional to earn its third state appearance in four seasons. It didn’t happen for a couple of reasons.
The first, of course, is how good West Aurora is and how well the Blackhawks are playing now. Second, nobody in the Raiders’ camp is using this as an excuse, but if coach Rob Brost’s team had not endured a string of key injuries this season, you wonder if they would have been an even better team at tournament time than they were.
No matter, the Raiders have faced quality competition all season, and Brost said the West Aurora team that they were matched against Friday night was the best they have seen. Looking at it from Bolingbrook’s perspective, the Raiders deserve kudos for accomplishing all that they did. You think with Tyler Cochran, Joseph Yesfufu, Demari Grant, Jordan Myrick and Marquise Ratcliff among the juniors that they have be decent next season as well?
In the sectional semifinals, Bolingbrook and Joliet Central treated us to one of the great games of all time in this area, the Raiders surviving, 94-91, in two overtimes. My thought there is the kids at Joliet Central are to be commended. They buy in to what coach Lawrence Thompson Jr. teaches them, and they hustle.
In the other semifinal, West Aurora handled Lincoln-Way East, 61-48. The Griffins had their best season ever under coach Rich Kolimas, and as Kolimas said afterward, it’s a shame that everyone at the sectional did not see the East team that we had seen all season. It certainly was not the East team that beat Romeoville for the Lincoln-Way Central Regional title the previous Friday.
Lincoln-Way West sandwiched a trip to the 3A state finals in 2016 between Bolingbrook’s visits to the 4A finals in 2015 and 2017. So this will be the first time in four seasons where our area is not represented at the state finals in Peoria. Still, we had an interesting 3 1/2 months around here.
Chicago Orr ran away with the Class 2A state championship, scoring a 76-49 victory Saturday night over Winnebago at Carver Arena in Peoria. Orr led only 24-21 at the half before blowing it open in the second half. Bloomington Central Catholic finished third, beating Pinckneyville, 69-61.
Meanwhile, Okawville beat Annawan, 59-48, to win the Class 1A state title. Sterling Newman finished third with a 65-50 victory over Goreville.
Might it be that a second Joliet Central Super-Sectional winner in two weeks will win a state title? Orr beat Hope, 74-64, at the Steelmen’s gym last week to earn a berth in the 2A state tournament. On Tuesday night at Central, it will be an all-Chicago Public League matchup as Morgan Park battles North Lawndale in a 3A super-sectional.
The North Lawndale roster includes senior guard London Stamps, who played with Romeoville’s varsity team his freshman and sophomore seasons and transferred to North Lawndale just before his junior season.
One thing I wanted to mention once more was the outstanding season turned in by Hall of Fame coach Joe Kuhn and his Joliet Junior College men’s basketball team.
The Region IV champion Wolves (26-7) lost the distrct championship game to Columbus State (Ohio) 85-83 on March 3, with a berth in the NJCAA Division III National Tournament on the line. The Wolves trailed by 17 points in the second half and came all the way back, tying it at 83-83 with 3.7 seconds left on a layup by Jarret Gmazel (Lincoln-Way Central), only to see Columbus State win on a layup at the buzzer.
“We left to many points on the board early in the game which cost us in the end,” Kuhn said afterward. “But I couldn’t be more proud of the effort and resiliency this group displayed all season. And, more importantly, how they have represented our college and basketball program. We will really miss our sophomores but are very excited for the opportunities that are ahead for them.”
What made the season extra special from this perspective was how many former Joliet area high school standouts played key roles for JJC, and how many of them improved their games under the guidance of Kuhn and his staff.
Gmazel, of course, was an All-Region IV selection and an All-America nominee. His Lincoln-Way Central teammate, Mitch Kwasigroch, enjoyed two strong seasons. Richie Elias (Plainfield North), Nick Welter (Plainfield South), Jason Bingham (Joliet Central), Chase Travis (Lockport) and Max Ahern (Joliet West) all were very much involved in what the Wolves accomplished.
• Dick Goss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.