ST. CHARLES – The St. Charles East boys basketball team played uptempo, crashed the glass and successfully slowed St. Charles North’s quality backcourt.
Just about everything on East’s pregame checklist was successfully accounted for Wednesday as the Saints controlled the IHSA Class 4A regional semifinal against host North, eliminating the North Stars, 65-50.
The teams split their regular-season meetings, with North grinding out a home win in December before the Saints crushed the North Stars in a January rematch at East.
“They thought last time we played them was a fluke, so we had a chip on our shoulder,” East senior forward AJ Washington said. “We knew what we had to do. We played fast, because last time we played them here, we played slow. We played down to their level, and it didn’t work in our favor.”
The postseason window of opportunity for East is widening as the Saints advance to Friday’s regional final against South Elgin, which upset top-seeded Larkin in overtime Tuesday.
While East’s talented perimeter shooters were at it again Wednesday, the Saints (18-11) also were superior in the paint, an especially disappointing turn of events for North given East’s occasional rebounding struggles.
East junior forward Mick Vyzral had arguably his best performance of the season, scoring 17 points and pulling down 12 rebounds.
“Great time to have a career game,” East coach Pat Woods said. “He’s had double-doubles before but he was extra special tonight, I thought.”
Washington (seven points, seven rebounds, four blocked shots) occasionally has had minimal support inside but that wasn’t the case Wednesday, as Vyzral and reserve forward David Mason (five points, two blocked shots) helped Washington keep North’s brawny frontcourt on its heels.
“I think coach said every single game we won the rebounding battle, we won the game, so I just wanted to get as many rebounds as I could and play the best that I can on the boards and just in the game,” Vyzral said.
Two days after opening the postseason by blistering Streamwood for 16 3-pointers – the same number East hit in the January win against North – the Saints stayed hot early, making 4-of-6 3-pointers in the first quarter. Guards Jake Asquini and Cole Gentry hit two each in the quarter, including Asquini’s deep 3 at the buzzer to give East a 21-11 lead.
The win was the sixth in a row for East, which led, 33-20, at halftime and never was threatened thereafter. Vyzral thought playing Monday was an advantage.
“We got a win under our belt, and it was hard for North because they hadn’t played a game in five, six days, and we just played one the other day, so I think that was big for us,” Vyzral said.
North (16-10) turned in a solid season, highlighted by a memorable triple-overtime loss to Simeon in Pontiac. The North Stars finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Upstate Eight Conference River with East and Geneva but seemed to lose steam late in the season, and closed on a three-game skid. North coach Tom Poulin shouldered blame for not “preparing the team for the real season.”
“We had one-pass possessions,” Poulin said. “We didn’t run things all the way through. At this point in the year, the first option’s not there, especially when you’re playing St. Charles East, a conference team. At this point of the year, you need to be going to second and third options. We didn’t play well tonight.”
Vyzral’s 17 points led three Saints in double figures as Gentry (12) and Asquini (11) lent offensive support. East’s double-digit win was all the more impressive considering the relatively quiet night for standout guard Dom Adduci (seven points), who missed most of the past two weeks with an ankle sprain.
“When you sit out 10 days and you’re not even practicing, you’re not going to just walk in and score 25 points,” Woods said. “Where I think Dom’s even gotten a ton better, he was moving the ball around great and sharing it tonight as well. Early on [in the season] I think we needed him to score, but now I think we’ve kind of grown into a team that we have a lot of people that can score. He sees that, and he’s able to distribute better.”
Junior forward Jack Callaghan had 15 points and nine rebounds to lead North. North’s guard tandem of senior Alec Goetz (11 points) and junior Jake Ludwig (five points) both were unable to summon their usual shooting touch.
It was an emotional North locker room afterward. Those raw feelings extended to Poulin, who coached several members of North’s large senior class in consecutive seasons, football (as an assistant) and basketball.
“Every single one of them are just good people at the root, at the core,” Poulin said. “You miss spending time with good people after you spend as much time as you do.”