By Bryan Bonato
Grayslake Central had lost three games in the last 11 days, and Huntley hadnt lost three games all season.
But youd never have known it by how the teams played on Friday night in the inaugural season-ending battle between the champions of the Fox Valley Conferences Valley Division (big schools, Huntley) and Fox Division (small schools, Grayslake Central).
The host Rams led the entire second half and knocked off the highly regarded Red Raiders 52-47 to build momentum heading into Class 3A regional play next Tuesday at Antioch.
For my money, thats how you want to end the regular season, said Grayslake coach Brian Moe. You play a great team thats well-coached in a playoff atmosphere.
You want the bragging rights of being the team that wins the first one (battle of division champs). We host the sectional. If were lucky enough to get back here, we wanted to establish that this is our house and were not going to lose here.
For its part, Huntley hadnt lost here, there or hardly anywhere all season. It came into the game 24-2, with losses only to Palatine, Fremd and Elgin.
But Red Raiders coach Marty Manning literally only had one player step up on a night when the opposition was fired up.
Bryce Only, a 6-1 junior guard, had 16 points, five rebounds and five steals. He also had all eight of his teams points in the third quarter, which ended with the Raiders down 39-36.
He came to play, said Manning. The best trait Bryce has is that hes a competitor. When his back is against the wall, hes going to fight. We needed eight guys to play like that.
In the fourth quarter, Grayslake led 42-40 with 2:30 left before Savonte McWilliams converted a plus-one layup for a 45-40 lead.
Huntleys Amanze Egekeze, a 6-6 sophomore forward (the teams leading scorer on the season, but held to 12 on Friday), then hit two free throws to make it 45-42 with 2:15 to play.
After a series of misses at both ends, Grayslakes 6-7 Casey Boyle (10 points in his first game back from an ankle injury) hit two free throws to make it 47-42 with 49 seconds left.
Troy Miller of Huntley bombed home a three-pointer with 36 seconds left to make it 47-45, but Jordan Taylor hit two free throws with 29 seconds and Boyle hit two more freebies with 12 seconds left to seal the deal.
Grayslake Central (18-8) had lost to Zion-Benton, Crystal Lake Central and Grayslake North in its last three real tests, but the Rams got a spark from Boyles return.
I thought he did a great job, said Moe. Ankle-wise, we were pretty conservative with him, knowing some of these games at the end didnt mean a whole lot. We taped him up pretty good. I think he had a better chance of blowing out a knee (than hurting his ankle) with all the tape he had on.
On the Huntley side, Only was disappointed with the way the game unfolded.
It was an important game to us, he said. We wanted to come out, play hard and run our stuff right and show we were ready for the playoffs.
His coach, also, was frustrated with the performance of the RedBlack.
We had a lot of guys who were not there tonight, and that made us physically not there, Manning said. The proof was the offensive rebound we gave up, and some of our turnovers in the first half. Its disappointing that in a big game at the end of the year, some of our guys came out as flat as they did.
Huntley begins regional play at home against Rockford Jefferson or DeKalb on Tuesday.