LA GRANGE PARK, Ill. -- Through 43 years of coaching, St. Joseph’s Gene Pingatore has learned it’s not how a team starts a season, it's how it finishes.
When the Chargers fell to 4-5 on Dec. 27, Pingatore never lost faith in his group. He saw the players’ skill and knew their potential. He believed they could turn their season around, but they would all have to put in a lot of hard work.
On Friday, St. Joseph realized that potential. Pingatore stood a few feet away and watched his players jump around in a circle at mid-court and celebrate their 58-50 overtime win over Farragut in the Class 3A Nazareth regional championship.
It was Pingatore’s 28th regional title at St. Joseph, and one he’ll certainly never forget.
“With all due respect, I worked my butt off this year,” Pingatore said. “It hasn’t come easy, let me tell you. Yeah, it’s rewarding. We’re 20-8, and at this point I can’t believe we’ve won 20 games. I say, ‘Oh, my god.’ ”
Friday’s title was won with a Pingatore staple -- aggressive man-to-man defense. The Chargers forced Farragut (14-9) into 24 turnovers, including three in the decisive overtime.
Tied at 41 to begin the extra period, St. Joseph forced the game’s biggest turnover on the opening play. Avery Harmon scored at the other end, and the Chargers never trailed again. They outscored Farragut 17-9 in overtime.
St. Joseph senior Reggie Johnson played havoc with Farragut’s offense all game. He had six steals to go along with 13 points.
“It was a just team effort,” Johnson said. “We were helping and recovering. You can’t do it by yourself.”
Farragut senior Rashaun Stimage nearly proved that theory wrong. After being hampered by three fouls in the first half, Stimage let loose in the second and nearly carried the Admirals to a win.
Farragut trailed 27-21 to start the third quarter, and Stimage brought the game to a tie after scoring six points, grabbing two rebounds and blocking two shots in the period. He added six more points and four more rebounds in the fourth quarter and just missed a game-winner around the basket as time expired in the fourth quarter. In overtime, he and Farragut ran out of gas.
Stimage finished with 26 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and one steal.
“When he came into Farragut, all he did was rebound and block shots,” Farragut coach William Nelson said. “His overall game has picked up a hell of a lot. From the beginning to the end, it was night and day.”
Farragut especially missed senior point guard Lavell Boyd on Friday. He was out with an injury, and the offense couldn’t get into a flow without him.
Everyone in St. Joe’s starting lineup got involved in the win. Paul Turner had 11 points. Karriem Simmons had 10 points and three steals. Harmon had a team-high 14 points and three steals. A.J. Patty had six points and six rebounds.
“Coach knows what he’s talking about,” Johnson said. “He’s pushed us. Practice hasn’t gotten any easier. If anything, it’s gotten harder. We’re coming together at the right time. It was a big game, and we played as team.”
Farragut’s Deonta Terrel contributed 12 points.