The road to celebratory cupcakes was no cakewalk for Huntley.
That helped make them taste even better Friday night after the Red Raiders clinched their third consecutive outright Fox Valley Conference Valley Division boys basketball title with a stifling 42-27 victory over visiting Cary-Grove.
"Bryce (Only) hugged me coming off the court and I said, 'It's not senior night, why are you hugging me,'" said Huntley coach Marty Manning of his four-year varsity starter. "He said, 'Three in a row, coach.'
"To fight through adversity with all of the injuries we've had, this one is sweet because of that."
Six-foot-7 junior Amanze Egekeze, who missed the first half of the season after surgery for knee tendinitis, had 24 points and 10 rebounds as the Red Raiders (17-7, 11-1) claimed their fourth FVC division title and 10th conference crown since 1986.
"This feels much sweeter because we know as a team we've been through a lot of adversity this season," Egekeze said after shooting 8-for-18 from the field and hitting all 7 of his free throws. "A lot of people counted us out ... and at least me personally, I started to take it a little personally. I wanted to work extra hard and prove people wrong.
"To win it now, it's definitely the toughest road we had to do it. It's been a lot tougher at times, so it feels really good to get it."
Senior point guard T.J. Adams, who just came back a few weeks ago from a sprained ankle, provided a first-half boost off the bench with 8 points. And the 6-1 Only helped set the tone defensively by limiting sophomore Jason Gregoire to 2 points on 1-for-8 shooting as Cary-Grove (11-13, 3-8) shot just 31 percent (9-for-29) from the field.
Only had 4 assists and Huntley committed its lone turnover 2 1-2 minutes into the game.
"All of the seniors really wanted this one really badly," Only said of Adams, Tommy Regan, Jake Wagner and Josh Elam. "Every single win wasn't pretty but we fought through adversity. It feels really special to win it three years in a row and it shows the hard work we put in."
Huntley never trailed as it pulled off a title three-peat for the third time (Big Eight in 1986-88 and Big Northern divisions in 2000-02). Zach Gorney hit a long jumper and Adams and Egekeze hit 3-pointers as it scored the first 10 points of a 16-3 tear to take a 25-11 lead 3:56 before halftime.
Egekeze matched Cary's point total as Huntley led 28-13 at intermission.
"The last three games he's really turned the corner and started to play better," Manning said.
"Amanze did his thing tonight," Only said. "We got him the ball and he was Amanze. He was a beast."
Cary got within 35-23 when Matt Motzel (7 points) beat the third-quarter buzzer as he banked in a fall-away 3 over a defender off a three-quarter court inbound pass from Andrew Splitt. But it missed all 4 of its fourth-quarter shots and didn't score again until 2:34 to play.
"They're outstanding defensively," said Cary coach Ralph Schuetzle. "When you look at the size and strength they have and the pressure they can put on the ball, it makes it very difficult. You're going to have to shoot the ball well on the perimeter against them and we didn't do that.
"It only takes four or five possessions and boom, it's double digits (deficit). So, you can do everything you can to try to stay even with them or let them bury you, and our kids didn't let down and kept fighting."
But Egekeze scored the first 7 points of the fourth quarter to give Huntley its largest lead at 42-23 and set up a home game next Friday for the unofficial FVC title against the Fox Division champion.
"If we keep playing like this," Manning said with a smile after the team's postgame pictures, "it will be harder to pick things out to complain about."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.