SOUTH ELGIN – Only a handful of St. Charles North students rushed the floor after Wednesday’s 4A South Elgin Regional semifinal between the North Stars and St. Charles East.
North was preparing to saunter through the postgame handshake line when players shook off their pals and proceeded forward.
Don’t get the North Stars wrong, defeating their crosstown rivals always is nice, and this 69-53 victory was no different. Still, when the result was something within North’s grasp – not to mention its goal sheets – the whole getting engulfed thing isn’t always necessary.
“We were ready for this game. We were preparing all week,” North junior forward Erik Miller said. “We couldn’t overlook South Elgin on Monday, but we’ve been waiting for this game for so long. We got them at our court, but they got us the first two, so to even this up was huge for us.”
While North (18-10) evened the season series with the Saints (15-12) at two games apiece, it can’t exactly revel for too long. The North Stars advanced to face another Upstate Eight Conference River Division foe in Friday’s regional final.
Larkin, which defeated North by 13 and 20 points in league play, cruised past Elgin in Wednesday’s earlier semifinal.
Still, with players such as senior forward Justin Stanko (13 points, nine rebounds) emerging as scoring threats alongside Quinten Payne (26 points), North is confident about reversing the result against the Royals. A string of hot starts during its recent run of eight wins in nine games has created a lasting buzz. Plus, it’s the postseason, which says a mouthful to Stanko.
“Playoffs is just a totally different mindset,” Stanko said. “It’s like once you get in the playoffs, you just want to go out there and just absolutely kill every other team. I don’t know, I feel like I go out there with a different mindset than I do in a regular game.”
“Get to the rim” was North’s civil and neutral mindset throughout the game.
The North Stars entered the bonus with 7:49 remaining until halftime and alertly darted to the basket on many of their ensuing possessions. The North Stars converted 5 of their 8 attempts from the foul line in the quarter, but were equally effective in the paint and around the rim when they weren’t fouled.
All the while, the Saints struggled through a 17 for 49 shooting night and weren’t as quick to loose balls. They also lacked competitiveness for perhaps the first time this season. While Saints coach Pat Woods by no means questioned players’ fight, he did observe that long-term climb against the North Stars was a rarity.
“That’s the tough part about tonight, especially a rivalry like this and the great fan support we’ve had all year,” Woods said. “We don’t like to disappoint and the kids don’t like to disappoint.”
Stanko, a 6-foot-6 senior forward coming off a career-best 17-point night in Monday’s quarterfinal rout of the host Storm, made each of his four field-goal attempts before the break. Building from an energetic stretch that included two field goals and two blocks in 50-second span in the first quarter, Stanko helped North take a 32-21 lead at halftime.
East went 8 for 19 from the floor in the first half, including a pair of baseline 3s from Dom Adduci, who teamed with backcourt mate Cole Gentry to score 19 of the team’s 21 points before halftime.
Adduci (15 points) and sophomore Jake Asquini (11) finished in double figures for East. Asquini boosted the Saints with three treys in the final quarter, although Woods hoped to get him involved in the attack much earlier.
“Jake’s one of the best shooters on the team,” Woods said. “We tried to get him some looks. They obviously know us well. They’ve played us four times, so they guarded him well, I thought, and a lot of his stuff came in off kick-outs on double teams and stuff like that. … When he develops his game a little further, he’s going to be very tough to stop.”
By the time East got to connecting from long range, however, North had already done its job on the inside.
“We’ve been working in practice, and getting to the rim was huge for us,” Miller said. “Getting fouls, getting them in foul trouble. We did that, and it came out successful.”