Christian Smith hits game-winner for Wheaton Academy

SHARE Christian Smith hits game-winner for Wheaton Academy

Wheaton Academy coach Pete Froedden had warned his son, guard Christian Smith, not to shoot the floater.

“He’s like 1-for-18,” Froedden said. “He picked the right time to make one.”

Smith’s one-hand floater Wednesday from eight feet out and in a crowd gave Wheaton Academy its first lead of the game over Burlington Central, 45-44, with 17 seconds left.

Then Gordon Behr blocked Duncan Ozburn’s attempt at a last-second winning layup and the second-seeded Warriors escaped with the victory over the third-seeded Rockets in the Class 3A Genoa-Kingston Regional semifinals.

“That’s just our kids having a lot of guts,” Froedden said. “We played super tight the whole game. The whole game we never did get into any kind of a rhythm.”

Even the winning points were difficult for the Warriors (20-8). They’d missed two shots before Froedden’s, including an air ball that led to a mad scramble and a tie-up with the arrow going their way. If Central had the ball, it might have been ballgame.

Instead, Smith got his chance at the winner after another miss and Wheaton Academy offensive board.

“We were just really fighting at the end,” Smith said. “It was frustrating that we couldn’t make a shot.”

Behr led Wheaton Academy with 15 points but he and all the Warriors struggled, shooting 13-of-55 shooting (24 percent) against Burlington Central’s triangle-and-two.

Central’s Reed Hunnicutt repeatedly drove inside on the taller Warriors for layups and finished with a game-high 17 points, and Rockets guards Jacob Schutta, Luke McCurdy, Brett Rau and Stefan Jochum frustrated Wheaton Academy with their quickness.

“I thought we frustrated them offensively with our ability to move the ball side to side and I thought Reed was pretty much great all night for us, especially when we needed a basket,” Central coach Brett Porto said.

Sean Fitzgerald had 11 points for the Rockets (18-9), who held their own on the boards until getting outrebounded 15-4 in the fourth quarter, with nine boards coming from Behr.

“I think for a lot of time we were struggling so much on rebounding but just being down (late) drove us to another level with our rebounding,” Behr said.

Central made just 4-of-10 at the line in the fourth quarter trying to protect the lead, and a key turnover by the Rockets trying to kill clock against the trap led to a Behr bucket to get Wheaton Academy within 44-40.

Central led by nine early in the fourth quarter but a big three-pointer from the Warriors’ Bennett Fuzak made it 44-43 with 1:38 left.

Porto was upset over the lack of whistles on physical play under the boards when Ozburn had his last-second layup blocked. He pointed to the rule emphasis on no contact that officials were supposed to follow all year.

“You can’t tell me that Brett or Duncan shouldn’t have, at least, got a chance at the free throw line,” he said. “But I’m very proud of my kids. They did everything they could.”

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