Libertyville survives gritty Hampshire

To borrow from the title of the biggest selling album of all-time by the late Michael Jackson that marked the 40th anniversary of its release last month, both Libertyville and Hampshire gave those in attendance Wednesday at Wheeling a thriller of a game.

Neither team would score in the final 3:32 as the Wildcats held on to a 39-38 win in the first quarterfinal of 44th Wheeling Hardwood Classic.

Libertyville (11-3) advanced to Thursday's first semifinal at 7:15 against Neuqua Valley (11-2) in a battle of schools both nicknamed Wildcats. Neuqua bested Deerfield 62-49 in quarterfinal number two.

"At the end of the day I don't think we were completely focused the entire game today but Hampshire was very aggressive. You've got to give them credit," Libertyville coach Brian Zyrkowski said. "They're very well-coached, very poised, they're patient, they follow their shots and they did a very good job of offensive rebounding against us today."

Hampshire (8-6) saved its best in half for the second as it trailed the Wildcats 33-23 on a Will Buchert field goal with 1:49 left in the third.

After a pair of free throws by Daniel Luckett, a Joey Costabile 3-pointer at the third period buzzer halved the deficit to 33-28.

Then the Whip-Purs began the final stanza on a 10-4 run that saw them grab the lead at 38-37 on an inside basket by Aman Adeshina with 3:47 left. It was Hampshire's first lead since a first quarter 3 by Nick Louis made it 3-2 at the 6:09 mark.

Libertyville regained the lead for good 15 seconds later when Blaise LaVista found Cole Bonder (4 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals) inside for what turned out to be the game-winner.

"I got the ball on the left side where I like it and I felt the pressure and Blaise made a nice pass to the post and I just had to finish it and get momentum back," Bonder said.

Still, Hampshire had one last chance at the win after Bonder missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 28 seconds left. A Gavin Khounniraj triple didn't go down, and Libertyville's Jack Huber snared the rebound to seal the victory.

Buchert and fellow Wildcat senior Aidyn Boone (11 points) shared game-high honors while Bailey Woods (9 points) and Costabile (8 points) paced the Whip-Purs who'll face Deerfield (8-4) in a fifth-place bracket semifinal at 3:45 p.m. Thursday.

"I told them they gave themselves an opportunity (to win) and that's all you can ask for," Hampshire coach Mike Fatherly said. "Gavin had a clean look at the end to win it there, but I'm proud of the grit they showed."

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