LEMONT – While obviously thrilled to see his Lemont boys basketball team grab a 36-22 lead late in the first half of Wednesday’s Class 4A Lemont Regional semifinal against Plainfield East, coach Rick Runaas realized all too well that the game was far from over.
The Bengals made that clear after scoring the final five points of the second quarter to pull to within 36-27. And they still were down only
51-43 heading into the fourth quarter.
That’s when East’s comeback efforts really went into high gear as it pulled to within one point and had a couple of attempts at winning baskets late.
But the Indians were able to weather the storm and hold on for a 64-62 victory that advances them to one of the biggest games they have played on their home court in a while. Lemont (19-8) will host Bolingbrook (20-6) at 7 p.m. Friday for the regional championship.
“We got a sense of that at the end of the half when we were up 14, and they called a timeout and finished the half off real strong and got it under double digits,” Runaas said. “They kept the pressure on all game and kept making shots, and it felt like every time we stretched it to four that they made a shot. I told 23 (Noah Woulard) at the end, ‘good for you for taking the shot.’ They ran a nice set and he got open and took a good shot, and it just didn’t go in.
“Right now, it’s survive and advance. All that you can ask for in life is an opportunity, and we have an opportunity to win a 4A regional at home against a great team.”
After leading everyone with 26 points and 13 rebounds, Indians center Paul O’Leary already is excited about the chance to meet the highly regarded Raiders with a regional title on the line.
“We knew that they were going to come back hard,” O’Leary said. “All of the scouting reports said that they were a fast team that’s going to get in our face and get physical with us, and our guards responded well. Nick Chlapecka, a senior who hasn’t played much, hit two huge two 3s. Nate (Ferguson) and I went through little phases where the ball just didn’t want to go in the hoop, but our guards picked it up.
“We’ve got a great opponent, and we’re looking forward to playing Bolingbrook on Friday. It’s not very often that you get to play a regional championship at home in your senior year. It’s going to be an insane atmosphere. They’ll bring their people and our stands will be packed, so it’s going to be fun. We had early-season troubles, but we’ve picked it up. We started 3-3 and are now 19-8, so that shows a lot of character. It’s our senior year, and our guys are going nuts since we have nine seniors and every one of them wants to win.”
The Indians also received 13 points and eight rebounds from Ferguson, 12 points and nine rebounds from Jerry Radomski and seven points from Chlapecka.
East (17-12) got to within 59-58 with 2:54 left after Christian Shumate (seven points, six rebounds) hit two free throws. Yamani Shareef (21 points) cut the margin to 64-62 with 1:34 remaining, but the Bengals came up short on two attempts in the final 18 seconds. The Bengals also got 14 points from Woulard and eight points from Mylan Walters.
“We knew how aggressive and intense they were, especially on their home floor,” East coach Mike Fowler said. “I thought we started the game off pretty decent, but then they kind of took control. I told them in the locker room that I’m proud of them since they always fight to the horn, and you couldn’t ask for more than having a shot to win the basketball game.
“I told them going forward that they’ll hopefully look at this as a learning experience. They need to understand what it takes to win basketball games like this where you’re going up against a team that’s senior loaded who knows how to get it done and wants to keep it going.”