The Bartlett boys basketball team deserves a tip of the hat for making the postseason interesting, an occurrence fans in the Fox Valley area should be used to at this point.
The Hawks were the third area team to make a run to the Elite Eight or better in as many years since the advent of the four-class system. Elgin did it in 2007-08; Dundee-Crown upset Neuqua Valley at the NIU supersectional last season and finished fourth in the state; and the Hawks wrote the third chapter in the local trilogy by winning 3 straight playoff games as underdogs in 2009-10.
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Like Dundee-Crown in last years's state semifinal, Bartlett (18-12) met its match in Jereme Richmond (26 points), Quan Connor (13), Akeem Springs (17) and the rest of the talented Waukegan Bulldogs (26-4), who scored in bursts to prevail in Tuesday's Class 4A Elgin supersectional, 75-61.
Though Tuesday's result was not unexpected, it didn't lessen the accomplishments of a Bartlett team that banded together when it mattered most.
There were many superlatives used by opposing coaches to describe the Hawks throughout their first sectional championship season, all of them apt.
South Elgin coach Chaz Taft called them "dangerous," saying eight different Hawks could score at any given moment.
Boylan coach Steve Goers said Bartlett was "fearless," a fitting description considering the manner in which the Hawks held their composure to win an overtime sectional title game on the Titans' home court.
And after the supersectional ended, Waukegan coach Ron Ashlaw used words like "scrappy" and "loose," and he echoed Goers' use of the word fearless. That description fits.
Though Bartlett was facing one of the more talented collections of basketball players in the state, its players never backed down, unless 17 points and 20 rebounds by senior Larry Whitaker or 25 points and 5 rebounds by senior Luke Labedzki can be considered backing down.
The Hawks played throughout the postseason like they had nothing to lose because, well, they didn't. They learned a lesson after last year's playoffs, when they entered the Oswego East sectional as the No. 11 seed and were upset in a regional semifinal by No. 22 Lake Park.
"Everybody wrote us off," Whitaker said of this year's playoff run. "We weren't supposed to beat St. Charles North (in a regional semifinal). So I felt like 'What the heck?' Jereme is who he is. I thought I'd give him a game and, hopefully, I did.
"It's a great way to go out. I'll look back on it in a couple of days. Right now it hurts. We were so close to taking that bus downstate, but they earned it. We gave them the best game we had."
Even after a layup by Waukegan's Aaron Johnson gave the Bulldogs their biggest lead at 68-47 with 4:25 left in the game, the Hawks reeled off 7 straight points and eventually trimmed their deficit to 10 points against Waukegan's starting lineup on a Labedzki 3-pointer with 1:02 to play.
Those would be the last points Labedzki would score, capping a four-year career of nearly 1,500 points.
"I'm happy with the way it went, what we did, the way we played tonight," Labedzki said. "Everyone came out strong and never gave up. That's all we can ask for.
"That was the best four years of my life. I'm going to miss it a lot. I accomplished a lot, the team accomplished a lot. I'm going to miss everyone."
Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith used a different word to describe how the Hawks caught fire in the postseason.
"I think the run was teamwork," Wolfsmith said. "I think these guys came together at the right time. There's a special thing that happens when people have pride in you - you want to work really hard to justify that pride. And these kids had people who had a lot of pride in them. You saw it with the fans out there, with their families that were out there and the alumni that came back.
"When you have that kind of pride - and I'll speak for myself - when people have pride in you you want to work your (tail) off to justify that faith...
"I'm proud of the way they played. They justified my faith in them, they justified the crowd's faith in them and they justified their teammates' faith in each other. I think they did a great job of stepping up.
"Ain't no shame."