The bigger the challenge the better for West Aurora.
Two days ago after knocking off No. 1 seed Oswego in the semifinals of the Class 4A Bolingbrook sectional, senior forward Spencer Thomas, in looking ahead to the sectional championship game, said “hopefully we get Benet.”
That's Benet as in the team that blew out West Aurora earlier this season at Batavia's Night of Hoops. The Blackhawks did indeed get the Redwings, and Thomas and his mates got their revenge Friday night with a 42-38 slugfest of a victory in front of a third straight packed house at Bolingbrook this week at a sectional that lived up to the hype of the second-best in the state.
Challenge? That's what the Blackhawks wanted.
It might be natural in the postseason to look ahead to possible matchups and hope a favorite gets knocked off making your team's road a little easier. Not at West. Spencer Thomas isn't alone with that attitude.
His brother Chandler Thomas, after their win Friday, was asked about the supersectional coming up Tuesday night at Hinsdale Central.
“We got this far last year, we want to play Proviso East, hopefully they win because we want the rematch,” Chandler Thomas said.
When informed that Proviso East had indeed won beating Oak Park by 19, Thomas's face lit up like a kid on Christmas.
That's Proviso East, the defending state runner-up who beat West Aurora in this same supersectional matchup last year? Are you sure maybe you wouldn't rather play Oak Park?
Bring on the Pirates.
“I'm looking forward to that game. It's one you don't want to miss,” Thomas said. “They are very fast, they have a great press. We are very patient now, we are very experienced, we have four seniors on the team that start and we know what it takes to get there.”
Chandler Thomas came out cold in the first quarter Friday. He ended the game with just 2 points — a pair of free throws that put his team up 32-30 in the fourth quarter — yet made one of the key plays in the game when he drew the fourth foul on Benet's 6-foot-9 Sean O'Mara with 1:07 left in the third quarter.
Thomas, taking the O'Mara assignment from Josh McAuley who had just gone to the bench with his third foul, took a charge as O'Mara barreled his way to the hoop. As the Benet fans roared, Thomas flashed a huge grin as he walked back down the court.
“I was just so excited. One more and he's out of the game. That fourth foul just sealed it. I knew we got in his head and he understood how West Aurora defense is.
“I knew he was going to lower his shoulder into it. He was doing it all the other quarters to Josh. I just knew if I got the right position I'd get that fourth foul and make the game a whole lot better for us.”
West Aurora coach Gordie Kerkman credited his team for “playing their fannies off” on defense, holding Benet to fewer points in the entire game (38) than the Redwings scored in the first half of the first meeting (40).
That defense allowed West Aurora to prevail despite not making a single field goal in the fourth quarter, which led to this Kerkman quip when asked about the lack of made shots: “We did get enough points, didn't we?” Kerkman said before expounding on his team's defense.
“They are pretty confident in themselves. We've got kids who play pretty hard. Maybe it doesn't look like it because some of them aren't that quick but I think they are playing awfully hard. Sometimes when you are playing hard you don't worry about getting nervous.”
Senior Jayquan Lee certainly didn't get nervous. He gave West Aurora the lead for good 35-33 with 2:50 remaining when he was fouled shooting a 3-pointer and made all 3 free throws.
Up to that point the Blackhawks had struggled at the line making just 14 of 25. Sparked by Lee, West Aurora hit 9 of its last 11.
“Coach always tells me to take a deep breath to relax myself so that's what I did,” Lee said. “I tried to remain focused and knock the free throws down. I go to the line confident.”
Lee managed to tune out a deafening Benet student section.
“I kind of heard it a little bit, but I wasn't really effected by it,” said Lee, who made 8 of 11.
“He's one of our best free throw shooters on the team,” McAuley said. “We know he'll come up big for us at key moments at the free-throw line.”
West Aurora's second straight sectional title comes after a tough end to the regular season when the Blackhawks lost rare home games to Naperville North and Glenbard East (in double overtime) to finish a game shy of a DuPage Valley Conference title.
That disappointment is a distant memory after a memorable week at Bolingbrook that saw the Blackhawks end up as the last team standing in a minefield of a sectional.
“Next day (after the Glenbard East loss), we said, 'Minor setback for a major comeback,'” Lee said. “We just had to overcome that loss and keep on moving on.”
Follow John Lemon on Twitter @jlemonDHCopyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.