Class 4A state championship
Glenbard West 56, Whitney Young 34
The best player was … Braden Huff, Glenbard West. The Gonzaga signee was a relentless force almost from the opening tip against the Dolphins. The senior 6-foot-11 forward displayed his range with a three-pointer about 2 1/2 minutes into the first quarter and had seven points before that period ended. He finished with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field plus three rebounds, five assists and one blocked shot, both bullying his way to the net and passing out of tough spots to set up teammates.
The key moment was … a Huff layup 38 seconds into the second half. Young actually generated some momentum prior to halftime, with senior Xavier Amos hitting a shot before junior Dalen Davis forced a turnover and finished the other way to trim the Dolphins’ deficit to 25-16. If Young quickly had netted a few more shots to begin the third quarter, the contest might’ve been tighter down the stretch. Instead, Glenbard West imposed its will once more and possessed a 22-point lead entering the last eight minutes.
By the numbers: This is the first boys’ basketball state championship in Glenbard West’s history, occurring in the Hilltoppers’ second tournament appearance. Their other state showing came in the single-class system of 1938 as just Glenbard. … Young earned the seventh state trophy in its program history, including the Dolphins’ sixth under coach Tyrone Slaughter. Half of those Slaughter-led results are runner-up awards, and the other half are championships. … Glenbard West senior Paxton Warden, a future Illinois men’s basketball walk-on, complemented Huff’s output with 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting plus two assists. Senior Ryan Renfro bucketed eight points while notching four rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot, and senior Princeton commit Caden Pierce contributed three points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals and one blocked shot. … Amos paced the Dolphins with 14 points. Senior AJ Casey and Davis each added six points. … Young went more than seven game minutes without a field goal across most of the third quarter and part of the fourth quarter.
What the Hilltoppers said: “Especially this game being the last with these guys, pretty sure (it’s) one all of us were ready for and not willing to lose. Just over the years with these guys, playing and all this, it’s been so much fun. … It’s just been one heck of a ride, and this team has been so great.” — Huff
“It’s so great to compare and to do this and do that, but realistically I’m more proud of how they approached each and every practice, to make … everybody on that roster get better and compete and enjoy and cherish those moments. Even in our pregame today, there was no anxiety. It was all confidence. They were talking about is water wet. … That’s the type of guys these are. They just love each other.” — coach Jason Opoka
What the Dolphins said: “It’s always tough when you lose, and it’s even tougher when you lose your last game. … But what I want to do first and foremost is I want to congratulate an outstanding Glenbard West team. I think tonight the best team won. They played phenomenal. I think coach had them ready to play. He’s had them ready to play all year. … We respect them as a program. They’ve had a phenomenal run. We can’t take that away from them, and ultimately they capped it off the way they would’ve hoped to have done so.” — Slaughter
Class 3A state championship
Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin 53, Metamora 50 (2OT)
The best player was … Cyclones forward Zack Hawkinson put forth a monster effort, scoring 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting and grabbing 13 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. Hawkinson scored 14 of his points in the second half and added four in overtime, including a bucket in the paint to force the first overtime. With 1:07 left in the first overtime period, Hawkinson hit two free throws to put the Cyclones up two, but Metamora’s Kyle Tucker scored in the closing seconds to force another overtime. Hawkinson cut a four-point Metamora lead in half with his final bucket, with 1:12 to go in the second overtime.
The key moment was … in a tie game with the clock winding down in double overtime, it looked for a moment like Cyclones guard KeShon Singleton lost his chance at history. He tried to cross over Drew Tucker at the elbow, but dribbled it into Tucker’s foot and lost the ball. In a flowing motion, Singleton turned around and snagged the ball, launching a desperate three that bounced off the front of the rim, off the backboard, on the left side of the rim, back off the front and in. Singleton leaped up and hugged teammate Jake Hamilton in midair as the rest of the Cyclones made a mad dash to the opposite baseline to start the championship celebrations.
By the numbers: The Cyclones closed the game on a 7-0 run and erased a six-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force the first overtime. Thanks in large part to Hawkinson, the Cyclones outscored the Redbirds 38-22 in the paint and forced 13 turnovers, including six in the second half, to build a 15-4 edge in points off turnovers. Singleton led the way with three steals and three assists. All of the assists came in the fourth quarter or overtime. Singleton and Jake Hamilton each added nine points and four rebounds for Sacred Heart-Griffin. Tyson Swanson was the hot hand for the Redbirds, scoring 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting and a 2-of-3 clip from beyond the arc. Senior Zack Schroeder scored 11 points and had nine rebounds, while Drew Tucker added 10 points.
What the Cyclones said: “We were told to go four corners and pick-and-roll to draw out the help. Coach (Tim Allen) just trusted me to make a play, whether that’s shoot the ball or pass it. I came off the screen, went to dribble, went for the pull-up. But out of my peripheral (vision), I’d seen him jump it, so I tried to cross over and he happened to get a kick on it. The ball was loose and I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to throw up a prayer to even have a chance,’ and it went in. I’m just thankful it went in, and I’m just so proud that we get to call ourselves state champions.” — Singleton on his game-winning three
“So, what was supposed to happen was Zack was supposed to come up and set the screen. KeShon likes his pull-up jump shot. Zack rolls to take the help with him. KeShon pulls up at the elbow. I see him coming and I’m like, ‘What, is he stepping back? That wasn’t the play.’ In slow (motion), you see he fumbled it a little bit, but there were still seconds on the clock. But when he shot it, I was just like, ‘It is going in.’ I had a feeling. Our season has been like that. We won in double overtime in our championship game of the regional. We had an overtime game in our sectional. Every championship game, we had overtime. We were told we were 3A on December the ninth, and people (went), ‘Oh, it’s over with. They’re going to 3A.’ Just to see how God works and how good God has been to our team, it’s just amazing. There’s no better ending than the ending we had today. Just how our season went.” — Allen
What the Redbirds said: “We were a 10 seed in the (State Farm Holiday Classic) tournament. I thought that was a little low. But that was great motivation. We’ve had those kind of things all year long. The only people that really, truly had faith in what we could do are in that locker room and sitting up here. … Oh, Lord. Been in two state championship games, 2-0 (before today), but I’ll tell you what, how exciting was that game? Just every play, man, back and forth. I don’t know how many lead changes it had, but I probably lost three years of my life in that fourth quarter. … You know it’s a big day in Metamora when the Dairy Queen closes down to come to this game. How good is that, fellas?” — coach Danny Grieves
“No mid-Illini team’s ever even been this far, let alone Metamora. Nobody knew who we were coming into this except for a bunch of local guys, but I think we proved a lot of people wrong. I know people still don’t think we should’ve been there. A lot of people think we should’ve lost to Rock Island, lost to Simeon, lost to Rochelle. That was one of the projections. We proved a lot of people wrong, and to all of us, (this run) is what should’ve happened. … They’re going to be back, I can tell you that. All of these guys, except for me, they’re going to be back.” — Schroeder
Class 2A state championship
Nashville 32, Monticello 31
The best player was … Kolten Gajewski, Nashville. As Monticello worked aggressively to take Hornets standouts Saxton Hoepker and Isaac Turner off their game offensively, Gajewski filled the void with a gutsy performance in the paint. The senior forward used his 6-foot-5 frame to collect a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 5 of 5 from the field and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line. He added one blocked shot for good measure and never left the floor when the clock was running, playing all 32 minutes alongside Hoepker and Turner.
The key moment was … Hoepker’s only field goal of the game. The 6-7 senior forward entered the Class 2A state tournament averaging 15.3 points and shooting 62.1 percent from the field. The Sages completely bottled him up, permitting Hoepker just two made free throws entering the final minute of regulation. But that’s when Hoepker picked his time to shine, driving through Monticello contact to convert a layup with 22 seconds left. The basket was the last produced by either side on the afternoon.
By the numbers: Monticello at one time was shooting 9.1 percent from the field. Senior Tanner Buehnerkemper hit a three-pointer about 2 minutes into the matchup, and the Sages didn’t swish another field goal until senior Dylan Ginalick netted a two-pointer with 4 minutes, 14 seconds remaining in the first half. … Monticello wound up shooting 35.5 percent from the field on 31 tries, a far cry from its 68 percent mark on 25 attempts in a semifinal win over Rockridge. … Likewise, Nashville hit just 36.4 percent of its 33 bids from the field, with Turner finishing 0 of 4 from three-point range and 3 of 14 from the field. … Consecutive layups by senior Joey Sprinkle put the Sages ahead 31-25 with 2:40 left in the fourth quarter. Hornets senior Nolan Heggemeier responded with a three-pointer — his only made basket of the game — and Nashville outscored Monticello 4-0 the rest of the way. … Ginalick led the Sages in scoring with 11 points and added three assists. Senior Ben Cresap potted all eight of his points in the third quarter. Buehnerkemper hauled in 10 rebounds as an undersized post player. … Alongside Gajewski’s 14 points, Nashville received six points from Turner and five points from junior Carter Schoenherr.
What the Hornets said: “Didn’t really expect to be playing from behind the entire time. … It’s not always pretty, but these guys found a way to get it done.” — coach Patrick Weathers
“Our whole team is full of guys that can take over and lead when the going gets tough. All it was was just me putting out a lot more effort than the other team. It’s just nothing special. Any of us could have done it.” — Gajewski on his performance
“The reason we have success at Nashville is we make our team our family. It’s more than a sport to us. We just care for each other so much. … We’re yelling at each other, but then after the game we’re all hugs and laughs. And the biggest key is our program is just that we’re so close to each other.” — Heggemeier
What the Sages said: “It’s just been an absolute incredible dream. These guys are first class all the way, on the court (and) off the court. Everything they do, they are a success. It’s what success looks like. Today was just a game, but most importantly these guys are going to go on and this is going to be a great memory for them. And they’re going to make a difference in the world, because that’s the type of people they are. … Incredibly proud of them.” — coach Kevin Roy
Class 1A state championship
Yorkville Christian 54, Liberty 41
The best player was … Duke recruit Jaden Schutt gets all the buzz, but the Mustangs well could have faltered at the finish line without a massive performance from K.J. Vasser. The senior shot 5 of 12 and scored 15 points, including a 4 of 4 mark at the free throw line, while adding seven rebounds. Vasser and Tyler Burrows made for a lethal one-two punch, combining for 13 of the Mustangs’ 23 fourth-quarter points.
The key moment was … The Yorkville Christian bench and the Mustangs’ student section could sense an imminent victory as Burrows collected a miss from Schutt, then scored in the paint himself, and on the next possession, when Vasser capitalized with a layup in transition off a Liberty turnover with 6:50 left. Vasser turned to pump up the crowd, flashing a satisfied smile.
By the numbers: Liberty held the Mustangs to a 3 of 13 shooting clip in the first quarter, taking a 10-8 lead. But Schutt, Burrows and Vasser started flowing offensively in the second quarter, and the Mustangs edged out the taller Eagles on the glass, 32-27, while building a 15-8 advantage in second-chance points. Burrows tallied up five assists to go along with 13 points, while Schutt scored 12 points and had six rebounds, though Eagles forward Logan Robbins helped hold him to 4 of 12 shooting. The Mustangs went 12 of 14 at the free throw line, while the Eagles only got to the line four times.
What the Mustangs said: “It was definitely surreal. Just being there in that fourth quarter, going down there with K.J., Jaden, Brayden (Long) and DJ (Douglas) and picking the energy up and getting everybody going. Turning up on defense, offense, it was really exciting. I knew, about one minute (left), that we were all locked in and we were going to win this thing.”— Burrows
“I just want to say, all glory to God. It’s definitely been a process. I remember in the fourth grade, just hearing about the school. ‘All right, there’s this Christian school four minutes away from my house being built.’ Now to be sitting here at a table with a bunch of wonderful guys, being state champs, it’s definitely been a process. A lot of hard work. There wouldn’t be a different group of guys that I’d want to win a state championship with. … We walked into halftime down one. We’ve been used to that, we’ve been used to being down. We’ve played a lot of tough teams, and that’s gonna happen when you play a lot of tough teams. … I just want to give a shoutout to K.J. His leadership, keeping guys in it with his intensity, he and Tyler being great leaders out there and they’ve always got my back.” — Schutt
What the Eagles said: “Just go prove everybody wrong. Everybody had us out of this game. We were supposed to get blown out by 25, I think that was one pick… We told everybody, ‘Prove why we should be here. Prove why we deserve to be in this game.’” — Robbins
“I’ll be honest, this is one of the things that I don’t get. Logan Robbins is one of the best players in our area. He has drawn the toughest assignment. (Southeastern wing) Danny Stephens, Jaden Schutt and the kid is not getting any love. I don’t understand that. That’s what I’m telling you, somebody is going to get a diamond in the rough, is going to get someone that is going to be a hell of a player in college. I hope having this opportunity for this weekend has opened some eyes about this young man and for several guys up here. … It makes me very proud… (fighting back tears) Sorry. There’s a simple expression, it’s about the Johnnys and Joes, not the x’s and o’s. Players who are willing to come out and play this way and do what you’re asking as a coach, they make my job very easy. Knowing a couple of these guys didn’t have a chance to take the court last season, seeing them come back, you have young men who are going to be successful in life because they’ve learned a lot of life lessons through basketball.” — coach Greg Altmix