ROCKFORD - They can now be called the best boys basketball team in Bartlett's 12-year history.
Not only did the Hawks (18-11) win the program's first sectional title and a berth in Class 4A's Elite Eight by beating Boylan 59-57 in an overtime thriller here Friday night, they did it on the home court of a traditional state power that had lost only four games this season.
Boylan Central Catholic (25-5) was seeking it's 18th sectional title, led by coach in Steve Goers, who ranks among the winningest in state history.
"We're the first team to do it, the first to win a sectional," said broad-smiling senior guard Frankie Cleope, whose 2 free throws with 32 seconds left in overtime gave Bartlett the lead for good. "This is what we wanted. We didn't want our season to end. We just wanted to keep going."
There were many at Bartlett High School who predicted results like this in the fall of 2006, when the current seniors entered the program. As middle schoolers at Eastview, they had gone 28-0 and had won consecutive league titles.
There were high expectations from within the group itself, which included Cleope, Luke Labedzki, Larry Whitaker and Mike Banks, among others.
Those expectations were met and, perhaps, exceeded Friday. Next stop: Elgin's venerable Chesbrough Field House, which will be rocking when the Hawks face Waukegan (25-4) and Mr. Basketball favorite Jereme Richmond (Illinois) in the supersectional on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
"This has been our goal since the beginning of the season; it's been my goal since I was a freshman," said Labedzki, a four-year varsity letterman. "We all thought we were going to be good, but it never really happened for us other than sophomore year, when we did pretty good. We expected more. But this year we got what we wanted. We want to continue now.
"It's just amazing. I love it. I'm so happy I cried. My face was bawling."
Labedzki wasn't the only Hawk staggered by the emotion of the moment. Banks, who fouled out with 42 seconds left in overtime, spoke through tears after the game, an involuntary reflex he said began once Cleope split 2 free throws with 5 seconds left to up the Hawks' lead to 59-57.
Others looked on with satisfied smiles. Standing near the baseline watching the Hawks cut down the net was 2007 graduate Dan Joiner, an All-Area player in 2006-07. He went on to become the all-time leading scorer in the history of Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa.
"It's great to see them grown up now," Joiner said. "I remember teaching them in camp, and now they're winning championships. It's great to come back here and see this."
What Joiner and the rest of Bartlett's fans witnessed Friday was a kettle of Hawks that played with intensity on every possession, a team that never wavered.
When Boylan reeled off a 10-0 run at the end or the second quarter to take a 28-23 lead, Bartlett answered with a 10-2 run that gave them a 33-30 advantage at intermission.
Labedzki, Bartlett's all time leading scorer, scored 16 of his game-high 20 points in the first half. He capped the run late in the second-quarter with a miraculous 3-pointer that banked in at the halftime buzzer after he raced up court with only 4 seconds to shoot. Earlier in the day, Labedzki watched from the Bartlett lunchroom as Ohio State's Evan Turner beat Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament with a long 3-pointer at the buzzer. "That was great, I saw the whole thing on TV," he said.
Boylan's Chris Miller (20 points) attempted to tie the game with a shot from the lane in the final seconds after he raced up court, but the ball missed the rim and the clock expired, setting off a wild celebration as Bartlett players and staff mobbed each other at midcourt. It was an unforgettable moment for Bartlett basketball and the senior class in particular.
"I remember when these guys were young and how good they were at that time," Hawks coach Jim Wolfsmith said. "I've watched some of them grow up on the varsity for three years and Luke for four. They're a special group, and it's amazing that they've been a major part of this renaissance of Bartlett basketball.
Did the kids from Eastview live up to their lofty expectations?
"I'll tell you what," Wolfsmith said, "they lived up to their dreams"