The message on the drawing board inside the Stevenson locker room was clear and concise. Written there, in big red letters, was just one word: Finish.
For a Patriots team that has done plenty of winning in recent years, the message had many meanings. Stevenson wants to finish its season with a state title after coming up short previously. But coach Pat Ambrose also wanted to remind his team to focus on finishing layups, finishing defensive possessions with strong rebounds and finishing games with focus.
Friday night, in the 4A sectional final at Waukegan against North Suburban rival Lake Forest, the Patriots did just that, executing on both ends of the floor at the end of the game to pull out a 57-49 win. The victory gives Stevenson its third-consecutive sectional championship.
“We’ve had a hard time finishing off Lake Forest before, because they are such a good team,” point guard Jalen Brunson said. “They hit a couple big shots down the stretch, but we didn’t lose our composure or anything. It came down to our heart and we just made some plays.”
Brunson, as always, led the way for the No. 2 Patriots (27-3). The senior had 25 points and four assists, controlling the action with his smart and steady play. He helped Stevenson push the lead to as many as 13 at the end of the third, hitting a fall-away three as the buzzer sounded to close out the quarter.
But No. 4 Lake Forest (28-3) would not go away quietly. Senior Evan Boudreaux scored 15 of his game-high 30 points in the game’s final eight minutes, hitting three 3s of his own in the run. The forward, who also had 16 rebounds, cut the lead to as little as three points after sinking a pair of free throws with 48.7 seconds to go.
With the capacity crowd going wild, the Patriots found a way to finish, keeping the Scouts off the scoreboard the rest of the way. Senior Connor Cashaw (11 points) jumped in the passing lane for a steal on Lake Forest’s next possession, followed by a pair of Brunson free throws with 17 seconds remaining. Sophomore Justin Smith (17 points) added the exclamation point, grabbing a long rebound and throwing down a breakaway dunk as the buzzer sounded to give the Patriots the eight-point win.
Ambrose said the effort displayed by the Patriots’ supporting cast made the difference for his team down the stretch.
“Obviously Jalen is going to come to play every day, but those other guys were tough,” the coach said. “Connor, one-on-one, was sick at times and Justin really did a great job.”
Stevenson advances to face Riverside-Brookfield on Tuesday at the Chicago State Supersectional, three wins away from a state title.