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Blood, sweat and celebration for Geneva boys basketball

Geneva’s Pace Temple goes up for a layup during the Vikings’ 70-68 win Wednesday over West Aurora in an IHSA Class 4A East Aurora Sectional semifinal. The Vikings advance to face Benet Academy in Friday’s championship game.
Geneva’s Pace Temple goes up for a layup during the Vikings’ 70-68 win Wednesday over West Aurora in an IHSA Class 4A East Aurora Sectional semifinal. The Vikings advance to face Benet Academy in Friday’s championship game.

AURORA – Chris Parrilli spent the first half of the fourth quarter pining for a chance to return to the floor. He made it back, and the Geneva boys basketball team is awfully glad he did.

The senior guard buried a wide-open 12-footer with 3 seconds to play Wednesday, the difference in a 70-68 Geneva win over West Aurora in an IHSA Class 4A East Aurora Sectional semifinal.

“I love pressure,” said Parrilli, sporting a piece of gauze in his left nostril after an elbow to the nose knocked him out of the game early in the fourth quarter. “I think I handle it pretty well. It gets me fired up. I enjoy it.”

Senior point guard Cam Cook uncorked the decisive assist to Parrilli after West Aurora’s Tommy Koth tied the game at 68 on two free throws with 13 seconds to play.

“Cook got around his man, a great drive, and really just an unselfish play – he found me wide open,” Parrilli said. “Everything was on him. It was all him. I just knocked down the open shot.”

The win – Geneva’s first sectional victory since 1981, coach Phil Ralston said – goes down as one of the most dramatic triumphs in program history. The sixth-seeded Vikings’ second straight postseason upset moves Geneva to Friday’s sectional final against top-seeded Benet, a game Ralston described as “gravy.”

There was plenty of meat and potatoes to Wednesday’s showdown, which was close throughout once Geneva rallied from an early 13-3 hole.

The second-seeded Blackhawks (24-5) moved ahead by six points with 3:16 to go in the fourth quarter but the Vikings’ late-game performance was airtight.

“Just unbelievable poise and execution by our kids down the stretch,” Ralston said.

Junior forward Nate Navigato stemmed West’s momentum with a basket at the three-minute mark to bring Geneva (25-5) within 62-58, and Cook drilled an open 3 in the corner to bring the Vikings within a point.

Cook made a pair of free throws to put Geneva on top, 63-62, with 1:45 left, and after a pair of free throws by West standout Jontrell Walker, Navigato see-sawed the lead back to the Vikings, 65-64, on an inside bucket with 54 seconds to go.

A West Aurora traveling violation gave Navigato (team-high 23 points) the chance to give Geneva a three-point lead on two more free throws before the Vikings fouled on purpose – perhaps a bit earlier than they would have liked – and Koth nudged the Blackhawks within 67-66 with 19 seconds left.

Cook split a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left to make it 68-66 before Koth tied it, if only for a few moments.

A bloodied Parrilli needed medical attention after taking a blow across the chops less than 20 seconds into the fourth quarter. He returned with 4:40 to play.

“It was a definite elbow to the face,” Ralston said. “I still can’t fathom how that was let go. … I thought that was huge for us because here we have our second-leading scorer, the leader of our team, miss four, five minutes of the game because he had to be attended to, and that’s where they kind of opened the lead back up again right there.”

Ralston had pinpointed West forward Roland Griffin as a crucial X-factor in the game, and that theory looked eerily prophetic as the 6-foot-4 forward scored 10 points in less than two minutes to open the game, sinking his first four shots.

But after falling behind 13-3, Geneva swiftly dusted itself off with a 10-0 burst to tie the game, and the Vikings led, 37-34 at halftime on the strength of 17 first-half points from Pace Temple and a trio of Navigato 3-pointers.

“In so many ways our kids are fearless,” Ralston said. “So many tight games against good teams. There’s no one that scares them. Jontrell, as great of a player as he is, Pace Temple didn’t back down from him one inch. He really made him have to work really, really hard down the stretch. I think that was a key to the game.

“Obviously, poor coaching on my part to try and run some sort of gimmick and let Griffin hit open shots. We didn’t handle that very well. It was almost like we dared him, and they called our bluff.”

Geneva – an efficient offensive team throughout the season – shot 63 percent from the floor on the night, to West coach Gordie Kerkman’s chagrin. The Vikings were 25 of 40 from the floor and 14 for 19 from the foul line. 

“We didn’t help out enough on guys driving to the basket,” Kerkman said. “We should have taken some charges. We had a great opportunity to take a charge on Navigato [toward the end of the game], he was going full speed, and all our kid had to do was step in front of him, and we get a charge.”

Temple finished with 19 points, Parrilli had 11 and Cook had 10 for the Vikings, while Griffin (23) and Walker (19) paced West Aurora.

Parrilli couldn’t recall any previous game-winners in his career.

“Not that I can really remember,” Parrilli said. “That’s definitely the one that’s going to stick with me.”

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