Daily Herald - Suburban Chicago's source for news This copy is for personal, non-commercial use. To order presentation-ready copies for distribution you can: 1) Use the "Reprint" button found on the top and bottom of every article, 2) Visit reprints.theygsgroup.com/dailyherald.asp for samples and additional information or 3) Order a reprint of this article now.
Article updated: 3/12/2013 11:25 PM

Stevenson marches to Peoria

By Patricia Babcock

DeKALB -- Yep, hit it. Good again. Nothing but net. Again … from 3.

It was as if every single 3-pointer was going in.

Stevenson hit a whopping 10-of-17 shots from 3-point range in the first half alone Tuesday night in the Class 4A Northern Illinois University boys basketball supersectional at the Convocation Center in DeKalb.

All Rockford Boylan coach Mike Winters could do at halftime was shake his head and cite the law of averages.

"I told our guys in the locker room that there was no way they could shoot at that clip in the second half," Winters said.

Winters was right.

The Patriots didn't get anywhere close to hitting 59 percent of their 3-pointers after halftime, like they did in the first half. In fact, they took only three second-half 3-pointers and missed on them all.

But it hardly mattered. The 3-point loving Patriots, who have hit nearly 200 long-range bombs on the year, proved amazingly versatile. Just like they overwhelmed Rockford Boylan from the perimeter in the first half, they overpowered Boylan in the paint in the second half en route to a 73-67 supersectional victory and a berth in this weekend's state finals in Peoria.

Stevenson, which moves to 28-4, will be making its first trip downstate since 2007. That year, the Patriots finished in fourth place. Stevenson's only other appearance in the state finals was in 1991.

Stevenson will now face 30-2 Edwardsville, a 68-49 winner over Marian Catholic in the Illinois State supersectional, in Friday's 8:15 p.m. semifinal at the Civic Center.

"This feels great. It's a lot of hard work coming through right now," said Stevenson sophomore guard Jalen Brunson, who scored 18 points, including two 3-pointers, despite sitting out half of the fourth quarter in foul trouble. "Coach (Pat Ambrose) told us that in the second half we were going to have to attack more and not settle for so many jump shots because (Boylan) was going to start coming out on us more.

"We made the right decision to get to the basket. It was a hard decision to not shoot a lot of threes, because that's what we like to do. But we adjusted and we succeeded. I think we showed by getting to the basket that we have a lot of athletes on this team. We're not all just shooters."

The Patriots, who got a team-high 22 points (including three 3s) from sophomore guard Connor Cashaw and 18 from senior guard Andrew Stempel (4-of-7 3-pointers) also proved they can be lockdown defenders.

Boylan, which trailed by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, methodically cut into its deficit. When senior forward Ben Grygiel hit a baseline 3-pointer with 57.4 seconds left, Stevenson's cushion had dwindled to just 3 points.

The Patriots missed on a pair of free throws on the next possession, and that gave Boylan a chance to tie the game with another 3-pointer. The Titans had 46.7 seconds to work in the half-court.

"We weren't getting too nervous because we trust each other," Cashaw said. "We knew that we had to play really hard defense that possession because that was it."

With 15.7 seconds left, Stevenson's scrambling, relentless defense, which had challenged every single pass and dribble while Boylan moved the ball on the perimeter, forced a mistake. Boylan threw an errant pass out of bounds. The Patriots then iced the game with 3 free throws, one by Brunson and two by Cashaw.

"This (win) is about our defense," Ambrose said. "We were playing such good defense for about 20 or 30 seconds there, and then the turnover. That's what it's about. That's our team. That's what I'll remember the most about tonight, our defense."

Meanwhile, Winters will remember his team's heart.

The Titans, who close the season with a 22-9 record, have been fighting long odds similar to that of their 13-point fourth-quarter deficit all season. At one point, from December to February, they were down three starters all at once for six straight weeks apiece.

Over that period, Boylan suffered six of its losses.

"I hate the cliché, but we just didn't have control of the injuries," said Winters, who got a game-high 27 points from Grygiel and 16 points from junior guard Brock Stull. "So to get this opportunity in the postseason is special for our guys and something they'll always remember.

"They showed a tremendous amount of heart because we were getting out-shot and out-rebounded like crazy. Mathematically, I'm not sure how we did it other than just scrapping our way back in."

Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.