St. Patrick just needed one more leaf on the clover.
St. Joseph missed the front end of a bonus opportunity with 8.2 seconds remaining, but the Shamrocks were unable to connect on a long three-pointer at the buzzer and the Chargers held on for a 39-38 victory Tuesday in the Hoffman Estates 3A supersectional.
No. 4 St. Joseph (27-6) will make its first visit to Peoria since winning the Class AA title in 1999.
“It never changes,” St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore said. “The excitement is always there. I needed to get back. You never know. How many years do I have?”
The game mirrored the East Suburban Catholic Conference battles of old between the two rivals – low-scoring, gritty defensive struggles with both sides refusing to budge.
“All the games were like this,” Pingatore said. “Nothing changes. We talked about that before the game with (St. Patrick head coach Mike) Bailey. We went up 10 then we let up and they got on a roll. We were lucky to get away. You have to be good and you have to be lucky.”
For a while, St. Joseph was content to be good, riding the 14-point performance of 6-2 senior Joffrey Brown to a 35-25 lead 33 seconds into the fourth quarter.
“We knew they would focus on Jordan (Ash) and Glynn (Watson), so me and Nick (6-9 junior Rakocevic) had to step it up,” Brown said. “They left me open shots that I’ve been practicing all year. I knocked them down today. My team kept getting me the ball and I just kept shooting.”
But Nicholas Coleman scored 10 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter to get No. 12 St. Patrick (22-9) within 39-35, and when Coleman rebounded a missed three-pointer by Isaac Moore and fed the 6-3 senior for a second try, Moore connected to cut the lead to 39-38 with 10.2 seconds left.
“We just said we were a game from Peoria and we always wanted to go to Peoria,” said Coleman, who was trying to lead St. Patrick to its first ever appearance downstate. “So we said we’re going to give it our all trying to get there.”
St. Patrick took its last timeout after Ash missed the bonus try with :08.2 remaining, but St. Joseph’s pressure threw off the timing of the designed play and Coleman had to launch a desperation three-pointer from about 30 feet.
“We fumbled the inbounds pass which threw off the timing with what we were trying to do,” Bailey said. “We probably would have taken a timeout there, but we didn’t have any left. With their athletes, it’s tough for us to make a play like that.”
Watson scored nine points and five assists and Rakocevic added eight points and 13 rebounds for St. Joseph. Duncan White added seven points for St. Patrick.
“This is one of the best basketball rivalries in the Chicago area … Pat’s and St. Joe’s,” Bailey said. “Well before I got there, back when Max (Kurland) was there and obviously Gene. Unfortunately, they left our conference, and obviously Peoria was at stake. But it’s also Pat’s and St. Joe’s, so it’s always special.”
And after losing in the supersectional in 2004 and 2007, St. Joseph is back on the big stage.
“(Coach Pingatore) talks about it all the time, and that motivates me, Glynn and Jordan, who came here as freshman,” Brown said. “Our goal when we first came to St. Joseph was to win a state championship before we left. That keeps motivating us.”