PEORIA – The quick version of the story is that Benet's boys basketball team finished second in the state after a loss against Young on Saturday.
The long version is, well, longer.
The Redwings were trailing by 11 points with under three minutes to play against one of the top teams in the country in the Class 4A championship game, but they refused to fold up the tent. A valiant comeback effort came up just a bit short in a 46-44 contest at Carver Arena.
"This is what we've been working for all year," Benet senior Sean O'Mara said of playing for a state title. "We worked since the summer of last year to get in this position. Now that got here we would have liked things to [come out a little differently], but it was good to see all the hard work pay off. It's been a blessing to be a part of this."
After trailing by 10 points at halftime, Benet (25-8) cut the deficit to 32-27 at the start of the fourth quarter. Young pushed its lead back to double digits when Duke recruit Jahlil Okafor drove to the rim and dunked to make it 42-31 with 3:07 to play.
Liam Nelligan's 3-pointer with 2:25 left ignited an 11-2 run. Collin Pellettieri answered a Young layup with a 3-pointer to make it 44-37 with 1:11 left. Pellettieri hit another three after a missed Young free throw, and Sean O'Mara's bucket following another Dolphins' miss from the line made it a 44-42 game.
Paul White hit both ends of a one-and-one to put Young (28-5) up 46-42 with 19.5 seconds left on the clock. Nelligan cut to the basket for a layup with five seconds left, but Benet was out of timeouts and the clock ticked down to zero to end the game.
The Redwings came up just short of their goal of a state title, but certainly earned the respect that seemed to elude them for most of the season.
"I think this team was a very, very good team, and I think we proved it tonight, even in defeat," said Benet head coach Gene Heidkamp, who guided the Redwings to their first state trophy since a third place finish in 1979.
"I couldn't be any prouder of our guys. I thought they showed tonight that they deserved to be in the championship game. I think that was evident by how they played."
The Redwings will have a different look next year with the graduation of starters Nelligan, Pellettieri, Josh Yesufu and the Xavier-bound O'Mara, plus key reserve Dan Roemer. Junior Colin Bonnett is the only returning starter.
Four other seniors (Daniel Bensen, Joe Boyle, John Kurzydym and Tom Kurzydym) will also graduate, and can do so with the knowledge they were a part of the most successful team in school history.
"We had the second-greatest team in Benet history coming down here, and now we're the greatest team in Benet history … and I'm just proud to be a part of it," O'Mara said. "I'm happy to go through it with these guys and these coaches. It's been an amazing run. Obviously I'm sad to see it go and say that this is my last time in this uniform."
State championship game
• Colin Bonnett: 12 points, six rebounds
• Collin Pellettieri: 11 points
• Sean O'Mara: Eight points, eight rebounds
• Liam Nelligan: Seven points, eight rebounds
• Josh Yesufu: Six points