Grayslake Central earns berth in the Hinkle

After having battled for seven periods and 44 minutes Thursday evening, Grayslake Central senior guard Dennis Estepp and his teammates got ready to battle Barrington for four more minutes of basketball with a berth in the Hinkle Holiday Classic on the line.

Successfully driving the lane for a layup that put his team back in the lead served as the added fuel that drove the Rams on an 11-0 run over the next three minutes of the eighth stanza, finally allowing them to pull away from the Broncos, 78-67, to earn that HHC title game ticket at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Crystal Lake South.

The Gators (12-3) held off Hoffman Estates (8-5) in the night's second semifinal, which started an hour late due to the record-setting contest - the first in the 22-year history of 'The Hinkle' - taking 2 hours and 10 minutes to complete.

"Our guys worked so hard," said Estepp, who led the Rams with 25 points, including eight in the decisive frame. "We stepped up to the big moment. That (Barrington) was a great team that we battled. It was just a great basketball game."

It started taking shape when the Broncos (10-1) rallied from an eight-point deficit in the fourth by going on an 8-0 run to pull even with Central when Nick Peipert scored off a Alec Schmidts feed to tie it up at 42 with 2:05 left in regulation.

Baskets by Rams Center Jake Gibson (19 points) and Barrington guard Dillon Schmidt (game-high 29 points) in the final 30 ticks of the quarter forced extended play.

In the first three overtimes, both squads saw chances of procuring the win go by wayside as Schmidts' putback of a Schmidt free throw miss in the first extra session and Schmidt coming up short on a 15-footer as time expired in the second extra period for Barrington slipped through their collective fingers as a pair of missed field goal attempts by Kai Taylor and Michael Monahan for Central (12-1) in the closing seconds of overtime #3.

The Broncos would get no closer than a Donovan Nichols three with 25 ticks left that pulled them within 8 (73-65) before six straight charity tosses by Estepp sealed the deal.

Sam Cooper added 17 for the Rams who earned its 12th consecutive win after dropping its season opener last month to Hampshire at the Crystal Lake Central Thanksgiving Tournament which was won ironically enough by Barrington.

The Broncos, who will face fellow Mid-Suburban West member Hoffman in Friday's 6 p.m. third-place contest, received an additional 19 by Donovan Nichols.

He spoke of his team's fight to the finish that set the stage for the four extra periods of basketball.

"That's what we work (hard) for," Nichols said. "We were in it to the end. We tried our best at it, but we just fell short."

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