St. Francis withstands Marmion's charge

St. Francis staved off a fourth-quarter rally by host Marmion to win its Class 3A Regional championship Friday night, 46-40.

After trailing all night, the Cadets tied the game at 40-40 with 1:50 left to play. A critical Marmion turnover and six unanswered St. Francis points sealed the Spartan win.

St. Francis advances from the Marmion regional to the Crystal Lake South sectional and will face Wauconda in the second semifinal on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Trailing 32-23 at the start of the last period, the host Cadets went on a 17-8 run in the final frame. The scoring spurt ended with 1:50 left to play on senior Sean Kavanaugh's 3-pointer from the top of the key that tied the game at 40-40. Kavanaugh finished with 9 points.

"We picked up the pressure a little bit (in the fourth quarter). We thought we could pressure their guards and get going in transition a little bit more," said first-year Marmion coach Joe Piekarz about the rally. "A couple of turnovers, tough foul calls and them making plays down the stretch was the difference."

St. Francis retook the lead on two Brandan Yarusso free throws. Marmion turned the ball over on it ensuing possession. Yarusso returned to the free-throw line. The senior made the first but missed the second. Teammate Sean Killian grabbed the rebound and scored on a putback to put the Spartans ahead 45-40 with 25 seconds left in the game.

Marmion's Trevon Roots' shot missed the mark and Yarusso corralled the loose ball. Sebastian Miller scored St. Francis' final point from the free-throw line with 11 seconds on the clock.

"It was a typical Marmion-St. Francis battle. I felt we just made the simple plays," St. Francis coach Erin Dwyer said. "The focus at halftime was keep the game simple and trust the stuff that we do."

"I liked how we kept our composure and our defense picked up in the last four minutes," said Yarusso.

Free-throw shooting kept St. Francis in the game in the last eight minutes. The Spartans scored 10 of their 14 fourth-quarter points from the charity strip. Miller and Yarusso accounted for all of them. Both seniors made five charity tosses in the frame.

The Marmion student section, located behind the Spartans' basket, made making the fourth-quarter free throws even more of a challenge.

"We made our free throws. That was the really important part, we took care of the ball," Miller said. "With the student section, I had to really concentrate on getting my release and making sure my elbow was up."

Yarusso led all scorers with 15 points.

St. Francis (25-8) never trailed in the game. The Spartans led 16-12 after the first period and 21-19 at the half.

Marmion (15-14) pulled within two again, 23-21 early in the third quarter, on a Roots (11 points) basket. But the Spartans closed the quarter with a 9-2 run.

TJ McMillen scored nine points for St. Francis and pulled down seven rebounds.

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