Host Stevenson had to feel like it had a dark cloud hanging over its head for two-thirds of the boys gymnastics sectional meet it hosted Thursday night.
But the Patriots never let the pressure get to them as they pulled through big-time in their final two events to capture the sectional championship, scoring 149.3 to edge a formidable Glenbrook North squad which finished at 147.8.
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Glenbrook South took third place in the eight-team meet with 142.8 points followed by Niles West (141.1 points) in fourth.
Hersey barely nipped Mid-Suburban League foe Prospect 132.65 to 132.6 for fifth place.
Stevenson's great finish Thursday earned them a berth to the Elite Eight meet next Friday at Lincoln-Way East along with defending state champion Wheaton co-op, which won the first sectional Wednesday with a 161.0.
Three other sectional champions and three at-large teams will also earn berths to the 2013 state meet after the final three sectionals are held this weekend.
The Patriots' first trip to the Elite Eight since winning the state crown is 2010 was accomplished by hitting a 26.4 on floor exercise, which was expected on their fifth of six events.
But after struggling on pommel horse basically the entire spring with team scores as low as 20.5, Stevenson came through with an amazing 25.1 points on pommel horse to close out the meet and easily surpass Glenbrook North for the title. The Spartans only managed 20.75 points on pommel horse.
Unheralded junior Christian Courtney proved to be a real ace in the hole for the Patriots as he placed third on pommel horse with an 8.2.
"We went 20.5 all year long on pommel horse and when we needed it the most we went 25.1," said Stevenson coach Eric Liva, who was elated following the outstanding late-meet performance. "We missed every event going into our last two events and I told the guys we only needed 50 points in the last two events, and they did it."
Stevenson's all-around trio of sophomore Arie Feltman-Frank (50.85) in fifth, junior Jacob Guth (50.2) in sixth and senior Kyle Weichselbaum (46.7) in seventh helped carry the Pats back to the state meet with just enough room to spare.
"We started off a little rough (on still rings), but we ended it with a bang and that is really what got us to state," said Feltman-Frank, who placed second on pommel horse with an 8.9. "If we hit our routines we can be in the 150's and our goal is to get a (top-three) trophy at state."
The top five finishers in each of the individual events Thursday also earned a berth to the state meet next Saturday. All of the at-large individual state qualifiers will be decided when the cut-off scores are announced following the final sectional at Conant Saturday night.
Hersey will have at least two individuals competing at state as senior David Jackowski (9.25) placed second on vault followed by junior teammate Matt Swanson (9.1) in fourth to earn an automatic berths.
"We competed tough as we have all year, but I think the nerves got to some of them," said Hersey coach Mason Vernon, whose team hit a season-high 137.85 at the MSL meet. "Overall David (Jackowski) did alright and vault was one of his brightest spots of the meet."
Prospect was led by senior Chris Klein in ninth and sophomore teammate Mark Larock in 10th overall while Jackowski was 12th overall.
Prospect senior Tim Pappas earned a trip to state with a fifth-place 8.05 on still rings.
"We started off strong on vault and then we just kind of did some unfortunate common mistakes," said Prospect coach Randy Smith. "The good news is that we had three sophomores and a freshman that competed tonight so we should be strong for the future."
Guth was strong on high bar with a second-place 8.85 while Feltman-Frank (8.3) placed third on still rings.
"We went six for six on our last two events and we were losing (to Glenbrook North) this entire meet," Liva said. "We struggled everywhere, but we just kept fighting and I'm so proud of these guys it's unbelievable."