When you get to a regional final or sectional, veteran St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore warned, “things are going to happen.”
His Chargers almost got more than they bargained for Friday.
St. Joseph overcame a seven-point third-quarter deficit, and Connor VanderBrug’s 27 points for Timothy Christian, to win the Class 3A St. Joseph Regional final 51-42.
“All week I kept telling the kids, ‘Forget the records. They’re a good team. If we don’t come to play they can beat us,”” Pingatore said. “I was proven right.”
Timothy Christian (18-10), a school just 10 minutes up the road in Elmhurst, had never played St. Joseph and just got bumped up to 3A last year.
Still, the Trojans answered a 13-0 Chargers run with their own 20-4 spurt, and trailed just 29-28 at half.
VanderBrug’s fourth three-pointer, with 4:29 left in the third, gave the Trojans their biggest lead at 39-32.
“The kids played with so much heart. I can’t ask for more,” Trojans coach Jack LeGrand said. “They just got gassed at the end.”
Indeed St. Joseph was deeper and quicker, and at times it wore on Timothy.
Glynn Watson’s pull-up jumper gave the Chargers (25-7) the lead back at 41-40 going into the fourth. They pulled away from there, pulling out their offense and bleeding away three minutes.
Chargers 6-9 sophomore Nick Rakocevic, who sat the entire second quarter with two fouls, scored 10 of his 16 in the second half and also had eight rebounds. Watson scored 14 and Jordan Ash 12.
“We kept our heads up, never got down,” Watson said.
The Chargers also held Timothy scoreless the first seven minutes of the final quarter, and kept VanderBrug to one shot and zero points.
“We didn’t defend well most of the game,” Pingatore said. “We had to do a better job with the big guy.”
VanderBrug had averaged 36 points per game over the Trojans last four of the regular season.
“We came out with a lot of passion,” he said. “I’m so proud of my teammates.”
St. Joseph moves on to a Wednesday sectional semifinal versus Fenwick, a team it split two meetings with this season.