BOLINGBROOK — Less than 24 hours after an instant classic double-overtime win over Neuqua Valley Thursday night, Benet's boys basketball team was back at it.
Facing West Aurora in the Class 4A Bolingbrook championship Friday night, the Redwings fell to the Blackhawks 42-38 in a game that featured 15 ties and lead changes, nine in the second half.
Three times this season Benet played three games in a row, and twice played four games in five days, but never with as much at stake as Friday night. Still, fatigue wasn't a factor.
"It's the sectional championship. You have so much adrenaline. I felt fresh as ever. It's no excuse for anyone," Benet senior Pat McInerney said.
If anything, the stop-and-go nature of a game that had 44 foul calls and 55 free throws between the teams was as much a factor as any fatigue Benet (27-6) might have experienced. That, and the Blackhawks' free throw shooting in the clutch. West Aurora was just 8-of-16 at the free throw line in the first three quarters but went 15-of-20 at the line in the fourth. They were 0-of-4 from the field in the final frame.
"I think these are two excellent basketball teams," Benet head coach Gene Heidkamp said. "It was a hard-fought game and a good game. It was two teams playing hard."
Benet junior center Sean O'Mara went to the bench when he picked up his fourth foul with 1:07 left in the third and the Redwings holding on to a 26-25 lead. They led 29-28 when he came back with 6:21 to play, but when he went to the bench they weren't able to put any distance between themselves and the Blackhawks.
"It hurt us quite a bit to have Sean on the bench for that period of time and limited his effectiveness," Heidkamp said. "It hurt us to have him in foul trouble, and having him on the bench for three or four minutes at a crucial time was a blow for us."
"Sean's obviously our go-to guy on offense and when he's out our offense struggles, so our offense wasn't as fluid as it usually is and I guess that was the difference in the game," McInerney said.
O'Mara's layup with 1:56 to go brought Benet within 36-35, but the Blackhawks went 6-of-8 at the foul line in the final minute to ice the win. Eddie Eshoo's 3-pointer with 20.5 left made it 40-38, but the Redwings got no closer and they turned the ball over with 6.7 seconds remaining.
"We knew what the deal was and unfortunately we came up a little bit short," Heidkamp said. "We're not going to make any excuses. They played better down the stretch and unfortunately we didn't make the plays we wanted to make."
O'Mara scored 13 points to lead Benet, and McInerney added nine. West Aurora had three players in double figures: Josh McAuley and Jayquan Lee with 11 each and Jontrel Walker with 10.
Benet previously topped West Aurora 62-50 Feb. 2 at Batavia's Night of Hoops event, but that game had no bearing on Friday's showdown.
"When we played them in February we were hot from the perimeter and got off to a good start," McInerney said. "I think we beat them by 12 and we were up 12 in the first quarter, so the last seven quarters against them have been pretty evenly matched."
"They were all physical. That's what butters your bread in March and that's why they're sectional champions back-to-back — because they're physical and they played better defense."