AURORA – The familiar high-pitched whistle of Geneva coach Phil Ralston before the start of each game could have been interpreted differently Friday night at the IHSA Class 4A East Aurora Sectional final.
Ralston’s trademark attention-grabber might as well have been a bugle horn to call on the cavalry of big men it was going to take to try and stop Benet center Sean O’Mara.
After Geneva eventually fell, 60-41, Ralston admitted it may have been a small victory to hold the 6-foot-10 Xavier recruit to “just” 24 points and eight rebounds.
Ralston shuffled 6-foot-7 sophomore Loudon Vollbrecht and 6-foot-7 juniors Mike Landi and Nate Navigato into the depths of what became O’Mara’s playground – a place he owned in the game’s fateful third quarter, when Benet held Geneva to just two field goals and six points.
The Vikings held strong in the first half, trailing by just three – 26-23 – but succumbed to an efficient Benet offense (the Redwings shot 76 percent in the second half) that went through its jumbo center.
O’Mara lofted in a nifty left-handed hook at the start of the quarter before throwing down a titanic dunk over a pair of Geneva defenders. On the next two possessions, Geneva collapsed two defenders earlier on O’Mara, who promptly found Colin Bonnett for wide-open 3-pointers.
It’s what was sandwiched in between Benet’s third-quarter run – one in which the Redwings ran their lead to 40-27 in a four-minute span – that had Ralston happy and looking ahead to future seasons.
While starting guards Cam Cook and Chris Parrilli played their final games Friday night, the Vikings return a stable of core players to build on Geneva’s first sectional win in over 30 years.
Not surprisingly, Vollbrecht fouled out.
But in his three-plus quarters, he opened eyes, tallying five points with nine rebounds and one block. After O’Mara’s big dunk at the start of the third quarter, Vollbrecht sent shockwaves through the packed East Aurora gym with a two-handed, put-back jam that gave Geneva a glimmer of hope.
That hope will carry into next season as Vollbrecht, Navigato, Landi, Pace Temple and Daniel Santacaterina will be among the Vikings’ expected returnees.