What a wild week it’s been in high school basketball.
Whether it was 11 double-digit seeds advancing to regional championship games Friday night –– there were a combined nine double-digit seeds that did so the previous two years combined –– or high-seeded teams going down before they could even play for a regional title, the week was pretty chaotic. And, again, that was before the regional championships were played.
Here is a regional rewind from a busy Friday night across the state.
The upset of the night
With 12 wins in its last 13 games, including victories over Marian Catholic and Homewood-Flossmoor during the stretch, it looked as if the Darius Burford-led Bolingbrook team was raising its game to another level.
In fact, if there was a sectional that appeared to have two teams on a direct collision course, it was the Lockport Sectional where its top two seeds, Joliet West and Bolingbrook, were heavily favored.
But then came along East Aurora, a team that from a physical standpoint could match up with Bolingbrook’s speed and athleticism.
The Tomcats, the No. 9 seed at Lockport, upset Oswego East on the road in the regional opener before pulling off the biggest regional title game stunner. Little-known Latrone Kirkwood and Amarion Savage combined to score 25 points as East Aurora knocked off second-seeded Bolingbrook 79-72.
It’s the first regional championship since the great Ryan Boatright’s senior season in 2011.
East Aurora will now actually be the much higher-seeded team in the sectional semifinal (more on that later).
The old adage “it’s never easy to beat a team three times in one season” proved to be far from true Friday night.
There were some high-stakes games between quality teams and rivals where the favorite won, thus sweeping all three games the two teams played this season.
Three different set of rivals met Friday night for regional championships and the favorites, who all won the previous two matchups, prevailed: St. Charles North beat St. Charles East, Evanston handled New Trier and Naperville Central defeated Naperville North.
In addition, Joliet West (beating Romeoville), Bloom (beating Thornwood), Cary-Grove (beating Jacobs) and Kankakee (beating Rich East) all took care of business with a third win of the season over their respective foes in regional play.
St. Charles North captured its second straight regional title, beating St. Charles East 53-45 at Elgin. The North Stars beat the Saints all three times this season and advance to a very winnable McHenry Sectional.
Coach Tom Poulin’s team has a nice mix that can certainly lead to an extended playoff run. That starts with the aforementioned winnable sectional, where the North Stars will face a Rockton-Hononegah team in the sectional semifinal with a 15-19 record.
More importantly, St. Charles North has solid guard play in Luke Scheffers and Christian Czerniak, a 6-9 big man in Connor Linke, and capable shooters who can space the floor.
An underrated piece returned to the North Stars in regional play. Max Love was a key cog for coach Tom Poulin before he missed 11 games with a torn ligament in his left elbow. Love provided depth as the team’s sixth man and a perimeter threat as arguably the team’s best shooter.
The 6-4 sophomore came up big Friday night, scoring 14 points, including a pivotal final five-minute stretch in the fourth quarter when he sank a three-pointer and converted eight-of-eight from the free-throw line.
Third time was the charm
While teams meeting for a third time this season in the regional was overwhelmingly pro-favorite, the exception came in the Mid-Suburban League clash involving Buffalo Grove and Prospect in the Grant Regional final.
Buffalo Grove, led by high-scoring sophomore Kam Craft, beat Prospect twice during the regular season –– 63-61 in overtime back in December and 72-59 late in the season.
However, Prospect completely shut down the Bison with an eye-popping 45-26 win. Craft alone averages 23.5 points a game on the season –– he was held to just 11 points –– while Buffalo Grove scored a whopping 40 points under its season average.
Prospect, a No. 11 seed that won its first first regional championship since 2009, now owns wins over sixth-seeded Barrington and third-seeded Buffalo Grove. The Knights also get to play the sectional this week on its home floor.
Quite the story developing at Glenbard East
A pretty special March storyline is developing at Glenbard East.
For starters, this is Scott Miller’s final season as head coach of a program that he built from the ground up. During a 12-year run from 2005 through 2016 the Rams averaged just under 20 wins a season. He’s the all-time winningest coach in school history, guided the Rams to a third-place finish in Class 4A in 2011 and will be inducted into the IBCA Hall of Fame in April.
So winning 20-plus games and capturing his seventh regional championship at Glenbard East is quite a sendoff for the retiring coach. And they’re not done yet.
But how the Rams have done this is what March is all about, really.
In a gutty regional semifinal win over Willowbrook on the road, Jack Rivas dropped in a layup at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. The Rams went on to defeat the Warriors 75-70 and advance to a regional final.
It was back to overtime Friday night in Glenbard East’s 81-79 win over Batavia. The guard tandem of DaRon Hall (41 points) and Deon Cook (29 points) combined to score 70 of Glenbard East’s 81 points.
The dynamic Hall was the hero. In addition to scoring 41 points, the high-scoring guard buried a step-back three-pointer with 20 seconds remaining in overtime and his team down by two points. He also blocked a potential game-tying shot in the closing seconds.
Hall is on fire. He scored 31 points in the win over Willowbrook, including 25 points in the second half. The Upstate Eight Conference Player of the Year now has 72 points in two regional wins.
Glenbard East advances to a sectional semifinal game where it will face Naperville Central, a team the Rams beat 64-57 in the regular season.
The No. 14 seed … wins again
Winning a regional championship is nothing new for West Aurora. The proud basketball program now has 43 regional plaques in its history.
But winning one this season was a long shot.
The Blackhawks struggled through a 9-19 regular season and began state tournament play as a No. 14 seed in the Lockport Sectional. But an upset here, another one there, along with playing the regional in the comforts of its own gym, fueled West Aurora this past week.
West Aurora pulled off a huge upset in the regional semifinals, beating 27-win and No. 3 seed Waubonsie Valley. Then the Blackhawks, behind senior Kevin Balfour’s 26 points, knocked off No. 11 seed Plainfield Central in the regional final.
The Blackhawks, now the lowest seeded team still alive in the state, will meet No. 9 seed East Aurora in the Lockport Sectional semifinals. This will be the 229th time these two have met in one of the greatest high school basketball rivalries in Illinois.
East Aurora beat West Aurora 51-44 a little over a month ago.
No drama in state’s toughest sectionals
When all the seeds were given and the brackets were laid out a few weeks ago, there were three sectionals that stood out as clearly the strongest and deepest in the state.
The Lyons, Bloom and Elk Grove sectionals were all stacked with highly-ranked teams and a surplus of 20-plus win teams. The top teams all advanced, And all the top teams advanced, unscathed, into the sectional semifinals.
The top four seeds in the Bloom Sectional will square off this week in sectional semifinal games as Bloom, Thornton, Homewood-Flossmoor and Marian Catholic all cruised in their regional final wins. Those four all won by double digits with an average victory margin of 24 points in the four wins.
Loyola, Glenbrook South, Evanston and Niles North, the top four seeds in the Elk Grove Sectional with win totals of 29, 29, 28 and 27, respectively, also advanced with regional title victories.
And aside from a minor upset, where No. 5 Morton beat No. 4 York, the Lyons Sectional will welcome the three state powers, Curie, Simeon and Young, who all took care of business in regional play.