By Joe Henricksen
Ask any coach, even those seeded near the top of a sectional, and they will tell you that first game on Tuesday night is a scary proposition. Typically the higher-seeded team is playing an opponent that has a game under its belt from winning the play-in game on Monday night. Often times it’s a higher-seeded team having to beat an opponent for the second or third time this season. And guess which team comes out a little tight?
No one could have expected Downers Grove South to have its hands full against Glenbard North last night in the West Aurora Regional. The Mustangs, the No. 2 seed in the East Aurora Sectional, rolled in with 16 straight victories and played the No. 18 seed, a team it had beaten 78-63 in mid-January. But Downers Grove South was down in the fourth quarter and had to scratch and claw to pull out a 54-51 win.
And how about Glenbard East? The Rams had rolled through the DuPage Valley Conference the past two seasons, going 28-0 in claiming two conference titles. Glenbard East squared off with DVC foe Naperville Central in the regional semis. A month ago Glenbard East beat Naperville Central 84-66; last night Naperville Central led by one with less than a minute to play before Johnny Hill (34 points) led the highly-regarded Rams to a 69-64 win.
Elgin should have known it would have its hands full, even if it was a 9-18 Streamwood team it was facing Tuesday night. The Maroons, the No. 1 seed in the Larkin Regional, were stunned by Streamwood in the regular-season finale, losing 54-52. The two were in another dogfight in the regional semis, but Elgin survived and advanced to the regional final with a 60-58 win.
After capturing the Central Suburban League title last week and winning 13 of its last 14 games, Niles North was soaring into regional play. But 16 minutes into their regional semifinal game, the Vikings were down six to a Lake Park team that closed out the final 13 games of the regular season with a 3-10 record. Despite star Abdel Nader fouling out midway through the fourth quarter, Niles North managed its way to a hard-fought 57-51 win.
There was 16th-seed Shepard giving top-seeded Thornton a run in the Lincoln-Way North Regional. Thornton prevailed and moved on with a 63-58 victory. Warren, who everyone is projecting to reach Peoria, didn’t exactly have its way with Highland Park, winning 52-42.
Others weren’t so lucky …
Evanston, which scuffled down the stretch but was the No. 2 seed in the New Trier Sectional, fell victim to Schaumburg. Coach Matt Walsh and his Saxons are back up to their old tricks as a Cinderella story. A year ago Schaumburg reached the sectional final as the No. 13 seed. This year the Saxons are heading to a regional final as a No. 15 seed.
Zion-Benton beat Lake Forest twice during the regular season, winning 52-47 in early January and 67-56 Feb. 9. But unlike Downers Grove South, Glenbard East and Elgin, Zion-Benton wasn’t as fortunate. The Zee-Bees, seeded fourth in the Barrington Sectional, are done after falling to No. 13 seed Lake Forest 47-40 in the regional semis Tuesday night.
And downstate, in what was without question the most difficult regional semifinal in the state of Illinois, heavyweights O’Fallon and East St. Louis Sr. collided. O’Fallon, picked by the Hoops Report and many others to advance to Peoria later this month, lost 81-79. O’Fallon has now lost to East St. Louis three times this season — by a combined total of five points.
Lincoln, another team expected to make a serious run in March and playing the regional on its home floor, fell to Morton 48-39. Although it was very early in the season, Lincoln beat Morton 80-52 in Thanksgiving Tournament play.
Did Normal U-High really score just 15 points in its regional semifinal, losing 50-15 to Washington?
And did Morgan Park really win by 75!
What does all this mean? We get to do it all over again tonight.