Grayslake Central secures regional title in OT

Grayslake Central senior forward Brendan Whalen picked an ideal spot on the bench for a suitable place to frame the moment.

After scoring 13 points and amassing 8 rebounds to lead sixth-seeded Grayslake Central to a thrilling 53-47 overtime win over Deerfield in the Class 3A Grayslake Central regional championship game on Friday, Whalen wanted a memorable picture.

Sitting with his arms spread out, just behind Grayslake Central's bench, Whalen posed with the regional title plaque - the program's first in 10 years.

"This means so much, just all the hard work we all put into this season and I'm glad we could do it on our home floor," Whalen said. "We're a tough team to beat at home. All those extra hours we put in outside of practice and in the weight room, it just all worked up to this moment. I'm so proud of this group."

The Rams (22-11) survived a furious rally by the Warriors (18-11) to advance to Tuesday's North Chicago sectional semifinal against top-seeded Lake Forest, which defeated Antioch 46-18. Dennis Estepp led the Rams with 15 points, Michael Monahan hit 2 3-pointers for 13 points, Darryl Overstreet added 10 points and 9 rebounds and Jake Gibson scored 2 points but blocked 5 shots.

"We played well in overtime and we didn't want to lose, especially at home," Monahan said.

Grayslake Central had a nice cushion late in the fourth quarter, leading 38-32 but had some ill-advised shots and missed key free throws. Deerfield senior point guard Luke Woodson, a three-year starter and Drake football recruit, swished a 29-footer with 2.4 seconds left to force overtime.

Woodson led all scorers with 22 points, scoring in a multitude of ways - hitting long 3-pointers, on power drives to the basket, and absorbing contact for lay-ins.

But the Rams pulled away in overtime, holding the Warriors to one basket in the four-minute session.

Whalen, a Lake Land College baseball recruit, scored a basket to tie the game in overtime and Monahan sealed the win with four straight points in a 30-second span, including a breakaway layup off a long pass from Whalen.

"We certainly had our chances to finish it in regulation," Grayslake Central coach Brian Centella said. "We ran into a tough team with five seniors and Woodson is such a gamer. He hit such a huge shot. I wish we would've taken care of the ball better, but the resolve our team showed to not collapse after they hit that shot, and to play as well as we did in overtime, was special. Brendan hit a big shot in overtime to tie it right back up. That was also big time."

The Rams overcame a slow start, falling behind 9-0 just three-plus minutes into the game. They trailed for the entire first half, not seizing their first lead until Monahan's 3-pointer from the wing at the 1:54 mark of the third quarter. From that point, the Rams gained control of the game before Woodson got hot in the fourth quarter, scoring 9 points to slowly bring the Warriors back.

"Grayslake Central's length bothered us," Deerfield coach Dan McKendrick said. "Estepp hit some huge shots, and Whalen played really well. They played with great poise and deserved it. Luke Woodson made me look good, and he was such a pleasure to coach."

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