PEORIA — Young’s senior point guard Xavier Castaneda streaked down the court with visions of a game-winning, state-title winning bucket or assist running through his mind.
But it wasn’t to be. Belleville West guard Lawrence Brazil managed to steal the ball and score to seal the Maroons’ 60-56 win in overtime in the Class 4A state championship game.
“He got a hand on it,” Castaneda said. “I was trying to look at the clock. It’s alright. We made a long run this season, had a lot of ups and downs. I’m happy we came this far.”
Young (28-8), the defending Class 4A champs, never led in the overtime.
It’s the first state title for Belleville West and firmly announces the arrival of junior EJ Liddell as one of the state’s elite players.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever had a team just get better and better,” Belleville West coach Joe Muniz said. “They had this one common goal.”
“We played an outstanding team, an outstanding player,” Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said. “We fought tooth and nail, I have no regrets.”
Liddell finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks. He was 3-for-8 from the field and 11-for-14 from the free-throw line.
“Young is a great team, we are a great team,” Liddell said. “We just had to keep our composure. It went back and forth. I missed the game-winning shot [in regulation] but that didn’t phase me.”
Brazil scored 18 points for Belleville West (32-2) and post player Keith Randolph Jr. added 13 points and six rebounds.
“Their game plan was to try and stop me and they thought that was going to stop us but we have a really great team,” Liddell said. “It’s not just me. We’ve been down a lot this season, we just had to keep playing together.”
Javon Freeman led Young with 17 points and Castaneda added 14. Jake Kosakowski, Young’s tallest starter at 6-4 and best shooter, sat most of the second half in foul trouble.
“We kind of ran out of a little steam,” Slaughter said. “David got Goliath today. He got them. These guys battled. I’m proud of each and every one of these guys. The fact that we were in this game this year says an awful lot about us.”
It was a good game, I hope the fans enjoyed it. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. We had some plays that didn’t fall, some free throws we didn’t make. What these guys have done over the course of their career, I’m so proud of them.”
In a surprise move, Slaughter played sophomore Sangolay Njie 22 minutes. The 6-4 wing, who had not played in the playoffs at all this season, actually guarded Liddell.
“[Njie] came in and did some really great things,” Slaughter said. “We told him today he might get in there and would probably have to play the best player in the state.”
Young was 21-for-50 from the field. Liddell’s shot blocking was a definite factor. The Dolphins didn’t back down, but they weren’t able to finish as consistently as usual.
“I don’t think it changed their offense, they kept coming in there and I kept blocking shots,” Liddell said.