For his last game at Gregory Arena, North Central College senior Derek Raridon went with the storybook ending.
The Cardinals advanced to the Division III NCAA Tournament Elite Eight with an 83-73 victory against CCIW rival Illinois Wesleyan on Saturday night in Naperville.
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"You couldn't ask for a better ending here," said Raridon, a four-year starter out of Neuqua Valley High School and the coach's son. "It was as packed (in Gregory Arena) as I've ever seen it, and I appreciate all the fans' support. It was a fun four years, and now I'm ready to go down and play in Salem."
The Cardinals will play Middlebury (Vt., 25-3) on Friday in Salem, Va.
With the referees determined to keep the game under control, both teams dealt with foul trouble throughout the game, and the North Central bench stepped up. Sophomore forward Jack Burchett scored a team-best 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including some key second-half baskets when Illinois Wesleyan (23-6) threatened to overtake the Cardinals (27-3).
Sophomore guard Jack Merrithey, who played on the Glenbard East High School team that took third in Class 4A in 2011, gave the Cardinals the lead for good with a 3-pointer with 8:53 left in the first half, then capped a 10-0 North Central run with another 3.
"I thought both Jacks played pretty well," said Cardinals coach Todd Raridon. "I thought Little Jack (Merrithey) the first half hit a couple of 3s and got us going offensively. We scored 46 points the first half, and some of that was we were 7 of 13 from 3. That's not us. That's not our identity. Our identity is inside, but we had some open looks and the kids knocked them down, Little Jack in particular.
"Big Jack (Burchett) here, the second half I thought he was really good inside. When we needed a basket, especially inside, he seemed to step up and make a play."
"We were nipping at their heels all night," Titans coach Ron Rose added. "... They had some kids step up in critical moments and make big plays."
Point guard Pat Rourke added 15 points and some key free throws down the stretch, Raridon scored 13, Aaron Tiknis 11 and Landon Gamble 9.
The Cardinals led by as much as 13 early in the second half, but the Titans came back by going at Raridon, Gamble and the other Cardinals in foul trouble.
"Landon and I both want to stay on the floor," Derek Raridon said. "We tried to get as good position as we could, but when they got us inside, there were a couple of times you just had to kind of step away and hope that someone from the back side could come over and help block a shot or you could just hope they missed. They did a couple of times, but a couple of times it was bad defense by us."
The Elmhurst College wrestling team capped a record-breaking season with a second-place finish at the NCAA Division III wrestling championships, with two Bluejays winning individual national titles.
Joe Rau (184 pounds) and Montini graduate Mike Benefiel (197) won individual national titles in their respective weight classes, while five Bluejays earned All-America honors by placing among the top eight in their weight class, setting a single-season record for Elmhurst.