DJ Steward is ready to declare it official.
The second half is Young’s half.
For the second consecutive game, the No. 4 Dolphins rallied back from a terrible start and halftime deficit to squeak out a win, beating No. 16 York 58-56 in the Class 4A Proviso West Sectional semifinal Wednesday.
“We always have bad first halves, so we just knew to come out in the second and dominate and just keep running,” Steward said. “We knew they were going to get tired eventually, so we just played tough defense and started pressuring them a lot.”
Steward, the first-team All-City star, scored 13 of his 17 points after the break (to go along with a team-high eight rebounds) and Myles Baker added 17 points of his own for Young (26-7).
York’s Sam Walsh easily stole the show with 29 points and 15 rebounds in what turned out to be his final career game, but it wasn’t enough to get the unheralded Dukes (28-6) over the hump.
“We really had no answer for him. … They’d throw it to him and he made moves,” Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said. “He played outstanding today, but our kids really did an outstanding job of defending and taking care of the other guys, and that was really what we wanted to do.”
An enormous York crowd, composing at least 80 percent of the near-sellout turnout in Hillside, roared with bewildered exuberance as the Dukes (28-6) raced unstoppably to a 16-3 lead after the game’s first six minutes.
But they fell silent when senior point guard Nick Kosich left the game injured in the second quarter — Kosich did not return and coach Vince Doran said afterwards he believes it was a concussion — and the loss of the key point guard really hampered York the rest of the way.
Just like it did a week ago in a come-from-behind win over Lane in the regional final, Young turned up its full-court pressure and fast-break focus as the game progressed, with great success. Slaughter said he hoped to wait until the third quarter to play that card, so that York wouldn’t be able to discuss a counter-attack at halftime, but had to turn to it earlier; regardless, it worked beautifully.
“It was very clear to everyone that we were outmanned,” Doran said. “We had one less ball-handler against pressure, and you need all the ball-handlers you can against a team like that.”
York still had a chance in a final minute that lasted an eternity. Erik Cohn hit a three-pointer, his lone highlight of an otherwise frustrating outing, to bring the Dukes within three with 35 seconds left, and they almost forced a 10-second violation on the ensuing possession. Cohn then hit two free throws with 11.5 seconds left to make it a two-point game, but Baker made his two on the other end to seal the result.
“The kid from Fenwick is really good, [Slaughter] did a great job of recruiting him,” Doran said. “You almost feel like you’re playing an all-star team from the city and the suburbs. I’m certainly not suggesting that, but I’m proud of our kids — our kids live in Elmhurst and they came out and battled.”
That result sets up an enormous No. 1-vs.-No. 4 matchup Friday, as Young faces Curie for the first time since eliminating the Condors in the sectional finals last year.
Steward wasn’t around for that 2018 meeting, but it’s still personal for him — it’ll be his first-ever game against former Fenwick teammate Damari Nixon, now the sharpshooter in Curie’s loaded starting lineup.
“They think that we don’t have enough talent, enough guts, to go out there and beat them,” Steward said. “We’re going to prove them wrong.”