WHEATON – Geneva controlled the tempo and frustrated favored West Aurora for much of Friday’s IHSA Class 4A Wheaton Warrenville South Regional championship game, but a few critical miscues down the stretch by the Vikings allowed the Blackhawks to escape with a 45-37 victory.
“There were probably two or three key possessions,” Geneva boys basketball coach Phil Ralston said. “You can’t fault our kids for the way they battled tonight, but sometimes when you’re playing this West Aurora team, even three points seems like it’s 30 points to try to close it in on them. You just have to have absolutely great execution.”
The Vikings (21-9) executed well for the first 26 minutes. Senior post player Connor Chapman scored inside on a pass from Chris Parrilli with 6:25 left in the game to put Geneva ahead 25-24.
Then came the crucial possessions Ralston referenced.
The first featured West Aurora senior forward Chandler Thomas on both ends of the floor. He came up with a steal to prevent a potential basket, then hustled to the other end to put back an offensive rebound that gave the Blackhawks (22-6) the lead for good.
Sophomore guard Matt Dunn hit a short jumper after another Geneva turnover moments later to push the lead to three, and after the Vikings failed to convert a one-and-one free-throw opportunity, West Aurora senior center Josh McAuley threw down a dunk with 3:23 to play that made the score 30-25.
After that, the Blackhawks made two baskets and 11 free throws, including five by McAuley, to close out the game. McAuley finished with 18 points and seven rebounds.
“He hit some shots, but it was his free throws late that hurt us,” Ralston said. “Once we had to put them at the line, that’s when we were in trouble because they just didn’t miss.”
The Blackhawks, the No. 4 seed in the Bolingbrook Sectional, were 16 for 19 from the line.
Geneva’s defensive game plan was centered on stopping West Aurora junior guard Jontrel Walker. The Vikings again employed a 1-3-1 zone with a chaser assigned to harass Walker.
Parrilli filled that role most of the night.
“We knew what kind of player he was,” Parrilli said. “He’s a tremendous player and we just focused on trying to shut him down and make the other players beat us. I think we did a good job on him. We got him frustrated. Pace Temple did a great job on him, as well.”
The 12th-seeded Vikings limited Walker to seven points and succeeded in getting him to foul out with just less than two minutes left in the game.
“It was frustrating, but we expected it,” Walker said of Geneva’s defense. “I just really wanted to make sure I was still in the game making plays. … I wanted to keep moving, do things on defense, just do other things besides scoring.”
West Aurora played a man-to-man defense throughout, but increased the intensity as the game progressed.
“Their defense was great as well and [frustrated] us,” said Parrilli, who scored nine of his team-high 11 points in the second half. “It kind of went back and forth. It was a great game up until the end.”
Seeking the program’s first regional crown since 1986, the Vikings led by four points on two occasions in the first half, but the Blackhawks scored the final six points of the second quarter to take a 14-12 lead.
Parrilli, a 6-foot-1 junior, scored on a drive to the basket early in the third quarter to put Geneva back in front, 16-14. The lead changed hands six more times before Thomas put West Aurora in front to stay.
The Vikings were playing just 24 hours after Thursday’s upset victory against Hinsdale Central.