Crystal Lake South closes strong to beat Huntley and clinch FVC outright

Crystal Lake South would have earned style points, if they were awarded in basketball, for the way it finished against Huntley.

The Gators’ 6-foot-8 center Christian Rohde threw down a pair of dunks and 6-5 forward Colton Hess also had a slam, along with a spinning bank shot to close out South’s 60-51 Fox Valley Conference victory Tuesday and clinch the outright title.

Both players finished with 16 points to lead South (24-2, 15-0 FVC), which needs three more wins to finish unbeaten in the FVC.

South withstood Huntley’s 3-point barrage in the first half, rallying from a 10-point, second-quarter deficit to win its 11th consecutive game and stop the Red Raiders’ winning streak at five games. Ethan Blackmore was 5 of 5 on 3s in the first half and Christian Wilson made two.

“The last couple minutes you’re trying to win the game and how many were contributing,” Gators coach Matt LePage said. “It wasn’t just AJ (Demirov). That’s the mark of a team, that’s a fun way to win a game like that, when you have other guys, James Carlson with steals or rebounds, Colton with that dunk and athletic putback and Tony (Santarelli) hitting that kick-out 3.”

Huntley (17-10, 10-5) handed South one of its losses in the first week of the season at the Johnsburg Thanksgiving Tournament. The Raiders had an upset on their minds after the scalding shooting in the first half (10 of 16 for 62.5%).

Huntley was 0 for 18 on 3s in a 49-25 loss to South last month. The Gators switched from their customary 1-3-1 zone to a 3-2 look, which seemed to help. They held the Raiders to five points in the third quarter and took a 41-35 lead.

“We stayed composed,” said Rohde, who had three dunks, three putback baskets and seven rebounds. “A couple of games we’ve been in that situation. We knew to stay composed, stay patient and turn them over.”

The Gators threatened to pull away early in the fourth when they went up 46-37 on Santarelli’s 3, but Huntley rallied right back to make it 46-44. Sheldon Bonsu’s three-point play made it 52-49 with 2:38 to go before Rohde and Hess put their finishing touches on the game.

“Our coach called a timeout to refocus us and told us we had to be tougher, get on the ground more and get those 50/50 balls,” Hess said.

Demirov added 14 for South. Blackmore led Huntley with 17 points, Wilson added 11 and Walker scored 10.

“We got it to that point, we have to play with desperation and some of our guys made plays,” Raiders coach Collin Kalamatas said. “We had plays in the backcourt that led to breakaway layups. We did a great job all second half executing in half-court, we just weren’t quite as high-percentage with our shotmaking.”

The Gators finish at Crystal Lake Central on Friday, then with home games against Jacobs and Hampshire. Along with going unbeaten in the FVC, South can break the school record for victories of 26.

“(Going undefeated in the FVC) would be amazing, it would be awesome,” Hess said. “We’ve talked about it, but we have to just win the next one at Central on Friday.”

The Gators were one win from that last season at 25-9.

“This group has an interesting personality, never too high, never too low,” LePage said. “They just kind of play the game that’s in front of them. That’s what we’ve been talking about the last couple weeks is just focusing in on that game and that team and that preparation. They do a really good job and compete and share the ball.”

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