Herrera's hot shooting lifts St. Charles East over Huntley

All it took to start feeling good for St. Charles East senior Eddie Herrera was for a couple of shots to go in.

The 6-foot-2 forward was on Huntley's radar as a capable scorer, but what Herrera did in the third quarter of Tuesday's Class 4A Rockford Jefferson Sectional semifinal had the Red Raiders scratching their heads in a 65-59 win for the Saints.

While Huntley struggled to connect from the field at the start of the second half, missing on its first nine shots, Herrera scored 12 consecutive points for St. Charles East, giving the Saints a lead it wouldn't lose.

Herrera finished with a game-high 23 points to lift the No. 2-seeded Saints over the top-seeded Raiders and an opportunity to win their first sectional title since 2016.

The Saints (18-16) advance to face the winner of Wednesday's second semifinal between Hampshire and Rockford Auburn in the championship game at 7 p.m. Friday.

"I just has a lot of confidence going into the game," said Herrera, who went 9-of-13 shooting with five 3-pointers. "After the first couple of shots fell, my teammates found me. In our motion offense, we find the open guy, and that happened to be me today.

"Today was one of those days where I was on and I kept shooting. I just felt really good."

Herrera's big third quarter turned a 30-28 lead for Huntley (22-11) at halftime into a 10-point lead for the Saints with 3:05 left in the third quarter. The Raiders, meanwhile, struggled to solve St. Charles East's full-court press, which it ran for the whole game.

Huntley trimmed St. Charles' second-half lead to 46-43 on a corner 3 by Noah Only with 7:15 remaining in the fourth, but the Saints responded with a 6-2 run. Huntley later trailed 56-52 after a steal and score by Ethan Blackmore, but it was Herrera again who came through with a 3 on the other end.

The Saints made 7 of 9 free throws in the fourth quarter to hold off any Raiders' comeback.

St. Charles East coach Patrick Woods said Herrera's performance was a snapshot of the Saints' season. On any given night, anyone can be the star.

"Eddie's been great for us all year," Woods said. "And with our team, different players step up at different times. We have a lot of guys who are capable of scoring. It's the most unselfish group I've had in a long time. I'm just so proud of them. ... They step up. That's what they do. And that's what makes this group special."

Jack Borri and Jacob Vrankovich each had 10 points for the Saints, while Vrankovich had eight rebounds. Steven Call chipped in nine points and Drew Clarke tossed in eight. As a team, St. Charles North hit 11 3s.

Huntley coach Will Benson felt the game might come down to the 3-pointer. His Raiders made five in the first quarter to take a 17-15 lead.

"No. 33 [Herrera] played the game of his life. He really stepped up," Benson said. "When the fourth best scorer gets 23 points, that's just hard to overcome. He got in a great rhythm, and he played with a lot of confidence."

Ian Ravagnie continued his stellar postseason for Huntley with a team-high 21 points, knocking down five 3s. The senior guard banked in a 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer to give the Raiders a lead after one.

Omare Segarra had 15 points for Huntley, Lucas Crosby had nine, and Blackmore added seven. Only had three points and 10 rebounds.

The Raiders placed third in the Fox Valley Conference behind Burlington Central and Crystal Lake South. They stumbled a bit down the stretch, dropping five of their last six regular-season games, but bounced back when it mattered most.

"We had a great year," Benson said. "People are going to look back and say we struggled at the end, but that was for a lot of different reasons. That wasn't because of effort. I was happy that we flipped the switch and were able to go 1-0 two games in a row [in the playoffs] and have an opportunity to be here.

"We felt good about tonight, but [St. Charles East] just played better."

Ravagnie said he entered the season unsure about how the team would look after it lost key pieces to graduation.

"I was definitely surprised with how our team turned out," Ravagnie said. "There were a lot of question marks with a lot of seniors leaving. The beginning of the season, we did really good and were playing our game. And the end of the season getting a regional, that was very fun to do."

St. Charles East at one point was 9-14 after a loss to Naperville Central on Jan. 25. The Saints have since won nine of their past 11.

"No one's talked about us at all," Woods said. "I think we lost seven in a row at one point, and these guys just stayed together. They're unselfish. That's why you win when you have a group like that. Today it was Eddie's day."

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