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 sectional 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 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.
In a fashion fitting the game, the Blackhawks tied the game at 30-30 with two free throws with 4:58 remaining, and took the lead with two more 17 seconds later. Three free throws from Jayquan Lee gave West the lead for good with 2:50 left.
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 three-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."
"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," McInerney said.
Friday's loss signaled the end of the road for McInerney and seven other Benet seniors. McInerney was a four-year varsity player who provided plenty of leadership during one of Benet's most successful stretches. According to Heidkamp, McInerney was part of Benet teams that went 103-18 the last four years.
"I haven't even wanted to start thinking about (losing him), but he's had a great career. He's impacted our program in more ways than just his basketball abilities," Heidkamp said. "He's a great leader and a great kid all the way around. He's hard to replace on the court, and hard to replace in the locker room and with the guys. He's had an unbelievable career and I can't say enough about him and what he's meant."
Starters Eddie Eshoo, Jack Euritt and Jack Toner and sixth man Robert Haemmerle are seniors that also will be missed, and they were part of an unprecedented season that included an outright East Suburban Catholic Conference title. The league had five teams win regional titles. The squad got it done against an arduous schedule. According to Heidkamp, the Redwings played only three teams with losing records. Twenty opponents won 18 or more games, which included 14 that won 20 games or more, and the average record of Benet's opponents was 18-9.
"These seniors were a great group," the coach said. "For our guys to win 27 games speaks volumes. Their legacy is going to be what it already is around our school: hard-nosed, competitive, winning-type kids. I couldn't be any prouder of our senior class and what they've accomplished."
W. Aurora 42
Leading scorers: BEN — Sean O'Mara 13, Pat McInerney 9, Robert Haemmerle 6; WA — Josh McAuley 11, Jayquan Lee 11, Jontrell Walker 10
Senior roll call
:: Eddie Eshoo
:: Jack Euritt
:: Pat Gianaras
:: Robert Haemmerle
:: Pat McInerney
:: David Mills
:: Jack Toner
:: J.J. Valentine