PEORIA — Thirteen bus loads of Lincoln-Way West students descended on Carver Arena on Friday. Almost the entire school made the trip to watch the Illinois High School Association’s great Cinderella story play in the Class 3A state semifinals.
The Warriors shocked the state on Tuesday by beating Morgan Park in the supersectional. Turns out that wasn’t a fluke and Cinderella isn’t heading home yet. Lincoln-Way West knocked off Peoria Manual 45-41to clinch a spot in Saturday’s state championship game.
“It just feels unreal to think that tomorrow we are going to walk out on that floor and play for a first place trophy,” Warriors junior Marco Pettinato said. “It’s really just surreal.
The Warriors (22-9) trailed by six early in the fourth quarter.
“At this point I don’t think we get worried when we are down in games anymore,” Pettinato said. “We have so much belief in ourselves.”
Senior Jon Marotta and Jay Bumstead responded with consecutive three-pointers to tie the game. Manual (26-5) scored to retake the lead with 4:35 to play, but those turned out to be the last points the Rams would score.
The Warriors held one of the state’s best teams scoreless for over four minutes. The feat is even more remarkable considering Lincoln-Way West’s bench played just six minutes in the game.
“The kids showed a lot of grit at that point,” Flaherty said. “We knew who their main shooters were and we were able to get on them. Late in the game, after some of these guys didn’t come off the floor at all, to stick with them, shows their mental toughness.”
Marotta led the Warriors with 13 points and 13 rebounds. He grabbed several key rebounds to limit Manual’s shot attempts on the final few possessions.
Pettinato scored 12 and grabbed seven rebounds. Bumstead finished with seven points.
“It’s been upset after upset after upset,” Lincoln-Way West coach Brian Flaherty said. “Now it is starting to feel like maybe these aren’t really upsets with the way these guys have been.”
Romon Douglas-Watkins led the Rams with 18 points and seven rebounds. Illinois recruit Da’Monte Williams scored just two points, he shot 1-for-5.
Lincoln-Way West has only been a school for seven years. Manual, one of the state’s most prestigious basketball programs, has nine state tournament trophies.
“My brother was [at Lincoln-Way West] the first year,” Marotta said. “My other brother graduated last year. It’s been awesome seeing [the program] turn around. We’re just living the life from here.”
The Warriors will face Belleville Althoff, generally believed to be the state’s best team regardless of class, in the Class 3A state title game tomorrow.
Once again, they will be heavy underdogs.