AURORA – A beautiful ending to a postseason victory for the Aurora Christian boys basketball team was marred by a jolt of postgame anxiety.
Students formed a prayer circle after the game as Eagles standout Johnathan Harrell was taken by ambulance to a local hospital to treat an unknown ailment. Harrell left the game during the fourth quarter after seemingly absorbing a blow to the stomach, and received attention near the bench during the game’s closing minutes while showing increasing signs of discomfort.
“I was on the floor and I remember we called a timeout, and he was just holding his stomach – I just thought he might have gotten hit or something,” said Aurora Christian sophomore guard Pat McNamara, the son of Eagles coach Pat McNamara. “And then two or three plays later, he was still holding it, and he was bending over.
“When he came out, everyone was kind of like ‘Wow,’ because he’s a very tough player, and he normally wouldn’t come out with something like that.”
A four-year varsity player, Harrell grabbed a team-high nine rebounds and scored seven points for the Eagles before being sidelined. Aurora Christian went on to win Tuesday’s IHSA Class 2A Aurora Christian Regional semifinal over St. Edward, 58-42.
“He looked bad. I don’t know what it was,” coach McNamara said. “His eyes were all bloodshot.”
Harrell already has gone through extraordinary adversity in recent months. His 21-year-old brother, Jarred, was killed in a head-on automobile collision in December after watching the Eagles compete in the Plano Christmas Classic.
With the win, Aurora Christian (16-11) advances to Friday’s regional championship game against IC Catholic Prep.
The third-seeded Eagles led, 36-35, entering the fourth quarter, then played their best ball down the stretch.
No. 2 seed St. Ed (20-9) – which had defeated the Eagles twice during the regular season – had close to a complete meltdown during the fourth quarter, when they were outscored, 22-7.
“It was a great game until the early part of the fourth quarter, and then they just took over,” said St. Ed coach P.J. White, whose team was shorthanded because of injury and illness. “They outplayed us. We didn’t have anything left in the tank, and they did. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They played really well and they hit their shots.”
Eagles sophomore guard R.D. Lutze scored a team-high 15 points while Pat McNamara scored eight of his 12 points in the fourth quarter. Guard Wes Wolfe canned a momentum-extending corner 3-pointer to make it 45-37 Eagles with 5:35 to play in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles also received an unexpected third quarter boost from reserve forward Juwan Sisco, who has played sparingly this season, partially because of an extended family vacation. Sisco scored seven points in the third quarter in what at the time was a back-and-forth game.
St. Ed hit Aurora Christian with a swift, 7-0 run in the final minutes of the first half but still trailed the Eagles at the break, 21-20. Lutze had 11 of the Eagles’ 21 first-half points.
Physical guard Davontae Elam scored 12 points on the night to lead the Green Wave.
A basketball cliche holds that it is tricky to beat the same team three times in the same season, but coach McNamara said that notion gave him little comfort heading into the game.
“No, because I’ve lost three times in a row to people, so I don’t think so,” he said.