HILLSIDE – It might not be the side of the bracket that the St. Charles East boys basketball team hoped for, but the Saints have climbed all the way to the consolation final of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.
The Saints beat Libertyville, 88-77, on Monday and will face Westinghouse in the consolation final.
An opening-round loss to Uplift put the Saints (8-5) in the consolation bracket, but wins against Gage Park, Urban Prep and Libertyville have East in a title game.
To reach today’s consolation final, East needed career highs in points from Dom Adduci (36) and rebounds from A.J. Washington (18) to beat bigger Libertyville (7-5).
“We were just up-tempo because they were too big and I didn’t think in scouting them that they had enough kids who could that could handle our pressure,” East coach Pat Woods said. “We wanted to get the ball out of 22’s [Jack Lipp] hands and he still killed us. But they didn’t really have anyone else making plays out of that pressure.”
Save for a late 8-0 Libertyville run, East played a near perfect first half, leading by as many as 17 points. The Saints attacked the taller Wildcats with transition baskets and 3-point shooting.
East led at halftime, 48-34, in part by limiting the touches of 6-foot-10 Libertyville center Joe Borcia and knocking down nine 3-pointers. Adduci hit three 3s, finishing with 20 first-half points.
“I thought our team came out strong and played with a lot of energy in the first half,” Adduci said. “We came out strong and it was one of the better halves that we’ve played all year. I thought we handled the momentum change really well and that was a steppingstone for our team.”
Libertyville made adjustments at halftime, increasing the number of touches Borcia got inside while giving more freedom to guard Lipp to penetrate and create shots.
Coupled with an ice-cold second half from the perimeter for East and dominant interior play from Borcia, Libertyville fought back, cutting the East lead two after a 3-pointer from Matt Reed that made it 66-64 East with 5:39 to go in the fourth quarter.
Woods promptly called a timeout and the Saints responded with a 9-0 run. Mick Vyzral knocked down a 3 out of the timeout while Adduci converted a three-point-play that pushed the Saints’ lead back to 75-64.
The Wildcats had a chance to cut the East lead to four, but Conor Peterson missed a point-blank layup that turned into a pair of Cole Gentry free throws on the other end as the Saints held strong, 80-72. Washington, who has had trouble staying on the floor this season because of foul trouble, took on a Libertyville frontcourt that featured Borcia and a pair of 6-6 guards.
The springy 6-4 Washington played the last four minutes of the fourth quarter with four fouls but managed to come up big. The senior had three rebounds and made 3 of 6 foul shots in the final minutes to help seal the win.
“Coach Woods challenged me to play harder so I came out and did that. I just like being out on the floor and aggressively hitting the boards,” Washington said. “We worked together and played together against a bigger team. Our confidence is pretty high knowing we’re on a three-game winning streak.”
Lipp provided another tough matchup for East, exploiting the smaller East guards. The 6-4 Lipp finished with 32 points and 10 rebounds for Libertyville, single-handedly keeping the Wildcats in the game in the fourth quarter.
Adduci finished the strongest, however, hitting a pair of free throws with 32 seconds to go that gave East an 83-77 lead.
On the ensuing Libertyville possession, Adduci blocked Cameron Chen’s 3-point attempt that set up Washington free throws.
A Lipp miss in the final seconds of the game found Adduci, and the senior went uncontested to the hoop for an easy lay-in that capped his career day.
“I felt really good in warm-ups [Monday],” Adduci said. “Our team came out today and really had a nice tempo, and I really got into that. Our drive and chip was really nice that really opened up driving lanes for me. I felt like as a team, we set up everything, and I was able to capitalize on that.”
Gentry and Vyzral quietly had nice games for East, with Gentry finishing with 16 points and six assists while Vyzral was 4 for 7 from 3-point range to add 13 points.