Grayslake Central pulls away from St. Viator

After winning regional games by two and four points last week, No. 7-seeded St. Viator was battle-tested when it headed into the Class 3A sectional semifinals against No. 2-seeded host Grayslake Central Wednesday night.

And despite starting four sophomores, the Lions hung tough against the favored Rams, only trailing 31-30 heading into the fourth quarter of the pressure-packed game.

But St. Viator (15-19) went totally cold from 3-point range in the final quarter as Grayslake Central outscored the Lions 15-4 in that period to pull away with a 46-34 victory.

Now the Rams will be shooting for their first sectional crown in school history when they host No. 1-seeded Lake Forest (23-10) Friday at 7 p.m. The Scouts defeated visiting Grayslake Central 55-34 on Jan. 14.

The Rams (28-5) started to pull away from St. Viator when Sam Cooper scored off a turnover before a 3-pointer by teammate Dennis Estepp made the score 36-30 with 6:47 to play.

The Lions did cut the lead to 36-32 on two free throws by Brandyn Michaels with 6:12 remaining. But that was as close as St. Viator would get as Central went on a 10-0 run with 8-for-10 free throw shooting in the final 3:53 helping to put the game away.

"At the end of the day I can say nothing but positive things about my kids. I don't think a team I've ever been around as a player or a coach has been through more adversity than this year's team," said St. Viator coach Michael O'Keeffe, whose team trailed 21-19 at halftime. "I can truly say over the last two weeks we were one of the better teams in the area so there's nothing to be ashamed of and it's a heck of a group of kids."

Cooper scored a game-high 10 points for the Rams while 6-foot-6 teammate Jake Gibson had 9 points and 5 blocked shots. Estepp and teammate Michael Monahan also scored 9 points each for the hosts.

"We finally instead of rushing our game we slowed it down (in fourth quarter). We played together, and packed it in - we played as one," said Gibson. "When you play as a team, you finally combine minds, lock in together on defense, it's just such an easier game to play."

St. Viator was led by Dayvion Ellis with 8 points while teammate Henry Marshall had 5 points. Michaels, Eli Aldana, Joey Hernandez, and Ryan Jackson also scored 4 points for the Lions.

"It was a big fourth quarter. Credit to our guys for stepping up and making some shots, and we did a really good job of showing some patience and really working the ball around," said Grayslake Central coach Brian Centella. "We're really excited for the opportunity (to play Lake Forest), I think it's going to be two really good teams going at each other, and it will be fun."

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