LEMONT – After putting up a good fight against Bolingbrook's boys basketball team the past two years in regional play, Lemont was hoping that the third time might be the charm as the two up again on Friday in the biggest game on the Indians' court in 33 years.
But despite receiving another good battle from coach Rick Runaas' squad in a regional final for the second year in a row, the Raiders again demonstrated why they are the sectional's top seed and are still alive to pursue a third sectional title in the past four years.
Coach Rob Brost's Raiders utilized both their depth at the guard position as well as their array of contributors throughout their lineup to capture a 77-65 victory in the Class 4A Lemont Regional championship before a packed house.
Bolingbrook (21-6) advances to Tuesday's 7 p.m. Romeoville Sectional semifinal, where it meets up with Joliet Central. The Steelmen (23-5) used a late 18-0 run to win the Oswego East Regional over the hosts, 49-38. Lemont (19-9) came up a bit short in its pursuit of its first regional championship since 1991.
"We knew that it would be tough, and it was," Brost said. "We're fortunate to get out of here with a win and you have to give a lot of credit to Rick and his kids, since he had them prepared and ready to go. He does a great job, not only this year, but year after year, and as fate would have it, we've faced them three years in a row so I'm pretty sure that he's tired of Bolingbrook in the playoffs, but they could easily have won tonight. They did a good job.
"And you can go all the way through our guards. Tyler (Cochran) had a double-double again, Kaleb (Thornton) was close to a double-double, Joseph (Yesufu) was doing Joseph's things and Isaiah (Clemons), Demari (Grant) and Jordan (Myrick) allow us to push pace pretty well and allow us to do some things as far as getting into the lane that are helpful. We saw games where the pressure got to them, so that's what we planned on doing. Sometimes it doesn't work like we want it to, but it did tonight and kind of wore them down toward the end."
Beside receiving big performances from Cochran (17 points, 11 rebounds), Thornton (16 points), Yesufu (15 points) and Clemons (11 points), Brost was also pleased with the efforts of 6-2 forward Daniel Burford, who came off of the bench to score seven points and add eight rebounds, most of which came during the final half.
The Raiders got off to a good start, using three straight buckets from Cochran, Joey Saracco and Thornton to grab a 23-14 lead late in the first quarter. But the Indians got a 3-pointer from Jerry Radomski (11 points, 10 rebounds) just before the period ended to make it 23-17.
Lemont carried that momentum into the second quarter and moved ahead at 27-26 on a layup by Jack Kramer (eight points) and then two free throws from Radomski with 3:46 left in the half. After Tyler Gray (seven points) hit a trey with 1:04 left in the half to give the hosts a 35-32 lead, Burford and Cochran scored baskets to help the Brook go up 38-37 at the break.
The Indians suffered a big blow with 5:16 left in the third quarter when Nate Ferguson (20 points) drew two quick fouls to give him four and that sent him to the bench through the rest of the period. Bolingbrook got a free throw from Burford and then a layup from Clemons to make it 54-44 with 3:37 left in the third and it still enjoyed a 56-49 lead with eight minutes left.
"We had key players come off the bench and play hard for us," Yesufu said. "I was very proud of Daniel, who works his behind off in practice every day. But we have a whole bench of players like that. We're just getting prepared for sectionals."
Ferguson scored two baskets to open the final quarter before Kramer and Paul O'Leary (14 points, 10 rebounds) added layups to cut the gap to 62-57 with 6:02 left. But the Indians were unable to get any closer and the Raiders scored the final three baskets to claim their biggest lead of the night.
After seeing his squad turn in an inspired effort but fall a bit short again to the Raiders, Runaas was understandably proud of the performance in their season finale.
"When Nate had to come off the court, that really kind of changed the game for us," Runaas said. "Not that the guys who went in didn't do a great job but we were behind a little bit and it was hard to come back. Three years in a row we've gone home against them, but like I told the kids, if you're going to lose to somebody, you might as well lose to a great team like Bolingbrook. We worked all year to take advantage of the fact that we were hosting a regional and just didn't make enough plays.
"What Bolingbrook does a really good job of is that they do penetrate and if that second level of defense comes, they do a great job of hitting guys who are cutting in from the baseline or who are cutting behind the defense and dropping off that pass. It's more than athleticism, they're very skilled. We try to stress to our kids to do things the right way and just work hard every day and hopefully that carries forward into life."