Grayslake Central edges Lake Forest for 1st sectional title in school history

Grayslake Central senior forward Jake Gibson's voice would not cut it at a crucial moment Friday night.

Not with the noise of the crowd at a jet-taking-off decibel level in the final minute of the Class 3A Grayslake Central boys basketball sectional final between top-seeded Lake Forest and the second-seeded hosts.

So - after scrambling to secure the biggest defensive rebound of his life with 50 ticks left in the fourth quarter and his team clinging to a 42-40 lead - the 6-foot-6 Gibson called for a timeout under GC's basket using mostly his ... elbows.

"I had to cradle the ball with my elbows, hard, in order to use my hands to call for a timeout, all while looking around for a ref," Gibson recounted.

Savvy move, Mr. Gibson.

Clutch, too.

Possessions in playoff games, after all, are almost as precious as newborns.

Grayslake Central senior guard Dennis Estepp hit a pair of free throws 26 seconds later, and Gibson capped the game's scoring with two freebies in GC's thrilling 46-43 triumph - the Rams' first sectional championship in program history.

Lake Forest senior guard and Clemson-bound Asa Thomas (game-high 17 points, 6 boards) had drained a trey after Estepp's free throws, cutting the Rams' advantage to 44-43 with 13 seconds remaining.

"Nice, nice," GC coach Brian Centella said of Gibson's oh-so-alert timeout.

Grayslake Central (29-5) now gets to travel to NOW Arena in Hoffman Estates on Monday, where it will face St. Ignatius at 6 p.m. in a supersectional staged at the home of the Windy City Bulls.

"Never been there," Gibson said.

Winner Monday night nets a Final Four berth in Champaign next weekend.

"We played as a team," said Gibson, whose team avenged a 55-34 road loss to LF's Scouts on Jan. 14. "But we're more than a team; we're more like a family, one that has been playing, for the most part, since our fifth-grade feeder days."

Lake Forest (23-11), which fell behind 7-2 and last led 30-29 late in the third quarter, hadn't won a sectional title either before Friday's tipoff.

GC produced its most significant run - a 7-0 spurt - after facing that 30-29 deficit, with Rams senior guard Sam Cooper (team-high 12 points) tallying 5 of the points (field goal, trey) in a span of 18 seconds.

Earlier in the third quarter Cooper netted a 3-ball, but that got waved off because Scouts coach Phil LaScala had roamed out of the coach's box, prompting a ref to issue a warning and then make Grayslake Central inbound the ball near midcourt.

LF's Thomas nailed a 3-pointer at 1:10 of the third period.

GC entered the final 8 minutes with a 36-33 lead.

Neither squad led by more than 5 points in the final stanza.

Rams senior guard Kai Taylor (8 points) sandwiched a pair of field goals around a bucket from Scouts senior guard/forward Thomas Aberle (7 points) between the 4:39 and 4:03 marks.

Grayslake Central called timeout three times from there, none bigger than the one gesticulated by Gibson, and ended up unbeaten on home hardwood in 2022-23.

"We protected our home floor, again," a grinning Gibson said. "No way were we going to lose in front of our fans in our last home game of the season.

"No way," he added.

Rams senior guard Michael Monahan poured in all 9 of his points from three-point territory. Estepp finished with 6 points, and GC reserve junior guard Jayden Hall scored 5 points, including a triple midway through the second quarter.

"Jayden, coming off the bench gives us tremendous energy," Gibson said after his 4-point, 6-rebound, 2-block night. "Plays great defense, too. He gives us everything we need from a bench player."

Scouts senior forward Anthony Mordini scored 12 points and grabbed 4 rebounds.

"Lake Forest is a great team, with a great coach, with great players," Centella said. "That certainly was a battle.

"Our mindset tonight was, 'One possession at a time.' "

One more game to go for Grayslake Central. At least.

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