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O’Brien: Is Bolingbrook poised for another deep playoff run?

Advancing to the state tournament seems to permanently elevate a high school basketball program to a higher level. From coaches to players, the lingering effects of a trip to Peoria are always positive. Bolingbrook finished third in Class 4A last season. The Raiders lost most of the key members of that squad, so they entered this season as a bit of a mystery. But for the second March in a row, Bolingbrook coach Rob Brost has his team firing on all cylinders.

The Raiders knocked off Lemont 61-45 in the Class 4A Minooka regional semifinals on Tuesday. Everything you look for in a serious sectional title contender was on display.

“[The playoffs] are fresh start for us,” Bolingbrook senior Devon Sams said. “We know what we went through at the beginning of the season but at this point we are playing our best ball.”

Nana Akenten is the star. The 6-6 junior is long and quick, a very difficult matchup for defenders. He attacked the basket with authority and finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.

“He’s gotten way better, he knows it is playoff time, it’s tough basketball,” Sams said. “It’s all about who will be at or above the rim on each play. He’s gonna help us, he’s a big scorer and comes up clutch when we need him like he did in the second half tonight.”

Sams is the Raiders’ point guard. He’s incredibly strong for a high school athlete and was rock solid handling the ball. With the starting lineup in Bolingbrook only committed six turnovers.

Zachery Grady, a 6-6 senior center, added six points and 10 rebounds for the Raiders (15-10). He also played a key role in limiting Lemont’s post scorer Nick Wisz.

“At the beginning of the year we knew we were going to go through a lot of growing pains because we had a young team,” Sams said. “We are hitting our stride at the right time and that’s what is important. We think we can make a run now. Everybody is starting to really learn their role and really step up, it’s working.”

Junior PJ Pipes led Lemont (17-10) with 14 points.

“We’ve won 9 of 10 now,” Brost said. “Minooka is the No. 1 seed and they are really, really good. Who knows what will happen.”

The Raiders will face Minooka for the regional title on Friday. The Indians beat Romeoville 51-46 in overtime in the first semifinal thanks to more heroics from senior Joe Butler.

He scored 26, more than half of the Indians’ points, and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds. Larry Roberts added 13 points for Minooka (22-8). The Indians are the top seed in the sectional but shot just 16-for-44 in their home a gym.

Romeoville (9-17) was one of the area’s youngest teams this season. Sophomores London Stamps and Dontia Johnson are starters, along with freshman Mike Salter.

Salter is a smooth athlete with a quick release on his shot. He and senior Matthew Cappelletti each scored 13 for the Spartans.