Aurora Christian battles for sectional win over Northridge Prep
The PA announcer at Tuesday night's Class 2A Johnsburg boys basketball sectional semifinal spoke for all in the gym with a three-word reaction:
"What a game."
Aurora Christian edged Northridge Prep 48-45 in a game that was frenetic, taut and physical from Minute 1 to the final buzzer.
AC's fourth-seeded Eagles (22-12) trailed 23-18 at the half, tied it at 38 in the first minute of the fourth quarter and broke a total of three ties in the final 8 minutes.
Seniors Brayden Hatch and junior Cam "Cam-Do Kid" Morel each scored 14 points for the victors, with the 6-foot-3 Morel pouring in all of his points after intermission, including a trio of treys in the third quarter.
"I knew," Morel said of his 0-for-the-first-16-minutes showing on the last day of February. "I had to get myself going in the second half for the team.
"We were not going to lose that game."
Aurora Christianwill play for a sectional championship Friday at 7 p.m. against the winner of Wednesday's Montini-Rockford Lutheran semifinal.
Second-seeded Northridge Prep - also known as Team Deflection - pestered entry passes all night on Tuesday, particularly in the first half when the Knights converted a slew of disruptions into easy transition baskets.
Northridge Prep (24-10), which deployed a harassing 1-3-1 zone defense, needed only 37 seconds to tally 9 points during a breathless stretch in the first frame, turning an 11-3 deficit into a just-like-that 12-11 lead at the 2:32 mark.
"Their guards are tough, with huge wingspans," said Eagles coach Dan Beebe, who lost his top six players last season to Graduation 2022.
"Survive and advance," he added with a look of relief.
Northridge Prep - coached by former Loyola University men's basketball coach Will Rey - was coming off its third straight regional title, having defeated Wheaton Academy 61-59 in double overtime at home last weekend.
The Knights appeared poised to extend their season after outscoring Aurora Christian 9-0 in the final 5:06 of the second quarter and entering a locker room in what had to be the best mood ever.
But Aurora Christian's collective resolve showed up big-time after the break. Morel struck for half of AC's 18 points in the third quarter, thanks to his flurry of triples.
Rey's Northridge Prep crew was behind 45-43 Tuesday night when it attempted to inbound the ball under AC's basket with 17 ticks left in regulation.
The ball never left the hands of the inbounder.
Morel then scored off a putback, while getting fouled, off a clutch pass from Hatch, giving AC a 47-43 advantage seven seconds later.
Morel made the ensuing free throw.
Superb senior guard Jonah Fairbank (14 points) of Northridge Prep scored the final 2 points via free throws with 9 seconds left, cutting the Eagles' lead to 48-45.
Beebe's Boys of Winter hung on from there.
AC senior Grant Keppy finished with 7 points, and freshman teammate Marshawn Cocroft - one of three Aurora Christian freshmen who played major minutes Tuesday night - had 5 points and 6 rebounds.
Junior forward TJ Gorman scored 11 points to go with 5 steals for Northridge Prep. Knights junior forward Javi Christoffel netted 8 points and came down with 4 rebounds, and senior guard Timmy O'Toole (6 points) hit a pair of three-pointers in the second half.