PLAINFIELD – Geneva free-throw shooters toed the line to repeated chants of “CHOKE!” in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s IHSA Class 4A Plainfield East Regional semifinal boys basketball game against the host Bengals.
The Vikings didn’t come this far to oblige.
Efficency from the line and just about everywhere else keyed a 64-58 win and put Geneva one victory away from the program’s first regional title since 1986.
“I thought we did a great job of sticking together as a team,” Vikings junior guard/forward Nate Navigato said. “Even when it got really close and their fans got really into it, we did a great job of just coming together and just knowing that, ‘Hey, we have the lead.’ Maybe it’s not by much, but then we’d put together more points, get a bigger lead, and did a good job.”
Geneva (23-5) will face bulky Bolingbrook for the regional title Friday night. Vikings coach Phil Ralston lent some early sizzle to the matchup by describing much of the Raiders’ front line as “gargantuan” while suggesting they “look like they’re guys that are playing for the Bears when you see them.”
Plainfield East (19-10) offered a much different matchup, relying on its backcourt as the Vikings enjoyed a size advantage.
Geneva harassed Illinois-bound Bengals junior guard Aaron Jordan at each turn by employing its usual arsenal of zone defenses, namely the 1-3 chase.
While Jordan heated up after halftime and finished with 14 points, his early frustration added up. Pace Temple, Chris Parrilli and Daniel Santacaterina took turns shadowing Jordan, then point guard Cam Cook joined in the effort once Jordan crossed midcourt.
“He couldn’t get a shot up or a clean look at the basket, and it forced him to give it to other teammates and make them get points,” Cook said.
Senior sharpshooter Nick Novak filled that role nicely with a game-high 23 points, finding his share of success from distance.
A pair of Novak 3-pointers early in the second quarter reduced a 14-7 Geneva edge to 14-13 and reinforced that the visiting Vikings – despite being the home team on the scoreboard by virtue of their higher seed – weren’t about to storm away with anything.
“We were outsized in a lot of different positions but had a lot of guys out there trying to battle,” Bengals coach Branden Adkins said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump.”
With Navigato (18 points) mixing it up from either side of the arc and the team en route to a 23-of-27 effort from the line, Geneva again threatened to put the game away in the final quarter.
Cook’s 3 from the right baseline with less than five minutes to play gave Geneva a 56-45 lead before things suddenly got blurry. After the Bengals’ full-court pressure forced a turnover, Jordan delivered a thundering dunk that brought Plainfield East to within 56-54 with 3:18 remaining.
Another turnover moments later gave the Bengals a chance at an elusive lead, but Parrilli corralled the rebound of Novak’s long 3.
Cook (15 points) and Parrilli (11) also finished in double figures. Both are among a number of returners from last season’s team, which challenged West Aurora in a regional title game before falling short down the stretch.
According to IHSA archives, this group already marks the winningest Geneva team since coach Mel Johnson’s 1962-63 Vikings went 30-3 and earned a state tournament berth. Getting the upper hand on some slightly more recent history is the focus until further notice.
“Oh, yeah. Every day we talk about it, and in practice we’re reminded of our goal this season. That’s to get a regional,” Cook said. “So we’re fighting for it, and we hope to get it on Friday.”