AURORA, Ill. – Every time East Aurora’s Ryan Boatright glanced up at the scoreboard during the first four-plus minutes of the fourth quarter Tuesday, Benet took a step closer.
What once was a 17-point second-half lead for East Aurora dwindled all the way down to one. East Aurora scored its 49th point with 59 seconds left in the third quarter and didn't add another point for the first four-plus minutes of the final quarter.
Boatright realized something needed to change quick or Benet was going to win on his home floor in the East Aurora sectional semifinals.
Boatright got the ball, dribbled hard to his right, bypassed his defender, burst into the lane, elevated and laid the ball into the basket with 3:23 left. The Tomcats were alive again and would stay that way.
No. 18 East Aurora handed Benet, the No. 1 team in the state and No. 7 team in the country, its first loss of the season, winning 60-52 before a standing-room-only crowd of 4,000-plus fans.
“I knew it was in my hands to make a play no matter if I needed to score or hit an open teammate for him to score,” Boatright said. “We were stuck on 49 for the longest, so I needed to do something. If they would have taken the lead, that would have broken us.
“We want to go downstate. We know our team is full of seniors. We don’t want our game or our season or our careers to end on our court in front of our fans.”
East Aurora coach Wendell Jefferies knew his star player would rise to the occasion. Nothing needed to be said.
“I’m smart enough to know when the game is on the line to call his number,” Jefferies said, whose birthday is on Wednesday. “I have a whole list of plays for him.”
Benet had no answer for Boatright, a Connecticut recruit. He finished with a game-high 29 points, six rebounds and six assists.
“Boatright is an incredible player,” Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said. “My hat’s off to him. He’s a phenomenal player. He’s going to have a great career at UConn. No doubt about that.”
It was a memorable season for the Redwings. They won the Proviso West holiday tournament, knocked off previously-No. 1 Simeon, rose in the national rankings and gone undefeated through 29 games. Yet, their remarkable season was no consolation for Tuesday’s disappointment.
“Unfortunately, this is part of March,” Heidkamp said. “As you know, our sectional is as good as any sectional in the state. If you’re going to beat a team like East Aurora on their home floor, you better play well. Because if you don’t, you’re going to get beat. I think it speaks for itself.”
Benet senior guard David Sobolewski, a Northwestern recruit, was his team’s offensive force throughout the first half, but he wore down. He scored 10 of his team-high 13 points in the first half.
Frank Kaminsky (12 points, eight rebounds), Pat Boyle (11 points) and Matt Parisi (11 points) contributed for Benet.
Along with Boatright, East Aurora senior John Williams was a key to the Tomcats building a 14-point halftime lead. Williams sank three 3-pointers in the second quarter and finished with 16 points. No other East Aurora player scored more than four points.