Jeremiah Fears steps up defensively, scores 24 to lead Joliet West to regional title

The Tigers knocked off Romeoville 71-57 to win the Class 4A Joliet West Regional on Friday.

SHARE Jeremiah Fears steps up defensively, scores 24 to lead Joliet West to regional title
Joliet West’s Jeremiah Fears (2) hits a three against Romeoville.

Joliet West’s Jeremiah Fears (2) hits a three against Romeoville.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Some teams begin the season aiming to win conference. For many schools, an elusive sectional title is the goal.

Since November, Joliet West has plainly stated its objective: to win the state championship.

That was the talk when Jeremy Fears Jr. signed with Michigan State. It was mentioned after big victories and after the loss to Benet at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

Those are big words for a school that has never even advanced to the state finals. But that’s the belief and hope the Fears brothers have brought to Joliet.

The road to Champaign begins with a regional title. The Tigers knocked off Romeoville 71-57 to win the Class 4A Joliet West Regional on Friday.

The score doesn’t reveal what an intense, physical battle it was.

Fears’ face told the story. The McDonald’s All-American’s left eye was red and half-closed in the postgame interview, a result of being tackled by a Romeoville player while he was on the floor in the fourth quarter.

Joliet West and Romeoville have become bitter rivals over the last several years. Both teams are coached by former Joliet high school players, and two of the Spartans’ best players are Joliet transfers.

“I’m 6-0 against Romeoville,” Fears said. “I beat them three times my freshman year and now have won two regional finals against them. It was challenging. I’m trying to stay composed.”

Fears had 16 points, four rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks.

Sophomore Jeremiah Fears led the Tigers (27-5) with 24 points and 11 rebounds. He also took on the challenge of guarding Troy Cicero Jr., Romeoville’s best senior.

“Everybody knows [Jeremiah Fears] for the flash, the deep threes and the ballhandling ability,” Joliet West coach Jeremy Kreiger said. “But before the game, he looked me in the face and said he wanted to guard [Cicero], which from a sophomore is huge.”

The Tigers led by 15 at halftime and after three quarters. But Romeoville (22-11) never gave in. After the scuffle in which Fears hurt his eye and a technical on both teams, the Spartans cut the lead to 10 with 1:47 to play.

Matthew Moore, who had 13 points and four rebounds, ended the threat with two dunks in the final 1:30. Jeremy Fears’ final basket on his home floor was a dunk.

“This is exactly what we pictured when he decided to come back,” Jeremiah Fears said. “We wanted to make some special music.”

Cicero led Romeoville with 12 points and five rebounds. Joliet West transfer Aaron Brown scored 11 for the Spartans, as did junior Meyoh Swansey and senior Kaharie Loggin.

The Tigers will face Lincoln-Way East in the Bolingbrook Sectional semifinals Tuesday. The Griffins beat Neuqua Valley on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by freshman BJ Powell.

“If we want to make it to Champaign and do anything down there, we have to show composure, commitment and confidence,” Kreiger said. “[Jeremy Fears] doesn’t lack confidence. But the composure, he just has to relax. When he relaxes, that is when you see the best version of us.”

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