So who’s up next for the Althoff Crusaders and their quest for a Class 3A state basketball championship? Cinderella.
Lincoln-Way West coach Brian Flaherty said it himself: “We felt like we had a good team, but I’d be lying if I said I told you right now we’d be in this position.”
But the Warriors (22-9) have no doubt earned their way to the state-championship game the hard way with consecutive upset wins over state-ranked opponents.
It started with a win over No. 2 Morgan Park in the Joliet Super-Sectional. Friday in the state semifinal, it knocked off No. 6 Peoria Manual.
Now Lincoln-Way West has a date with Althoff (31-2), the top-ranked 3A team in Illinois and No. 20 on the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national ranking.
We felt like we had a good team, but I'd be lying if I said I told you right now we'd be in this position.
Brian Flaherty, Lincoln-Way West basketball coach
“We’re really excited at the path we’ve taken to get here,” Flaherty said. “It’s been upset after upset after upset. I’m getting to where I’m starting to think maybe these can’t all be upsets.”
Do they have one more in them?
Althoff coach Greg Leib doesn’t know much about Lincoln-Way West, but based on recent history, he said the Crusaders are not about to take the Warriors for granted.
“They’ve got to be tough,” Leib said. “They went out and beat Morgan Park, which was the anointed one up in Chi-town, but they went out and took care of them. Then going out and watching them today, I think their coach does a great job. They run some good schemes, they can all shoot it, they’re bigs are skilled.
“They are a lot like us. It should be a great challenge and a great ballgame for the fans tomorrow.”
Lincoln-Way West won just 10 of its first 18 games. It closed on a 12-1 run, dropping only its regular season finale to New Lenox town rival Lincoln-Way Central. Through the Warriors’ six-game postseason sweep, they’ve won with no greater than a nine-point margin.
Flaherty’s team does not run as deep as Leib’s. Althoff uses seven players liberally throughout an average game. Five of them —Jordan Goodwin, Tarkus Ferguson, Brendon Gooch, C.J. Coldon and Marvin Bateman — average in double figures.
They've got to be tough. They went out and beat Morgan Park, which was the anointed one up in Chi-town, but they went out and took care of them.
Greg Leib, Althoff head basketball coach
Lincoln-Way West, meanwhile, relies mostly on its starting five. In their semifinal win Friday, for example, the Warriors got an assist and one missed shot in six total minutes of play off the bench.
“I try to keep the guys’ legs as fresh as I can,” Flaherty said. “I’ve been shortening practices and spending some practice sessions just watching film.”
Junior guard Marco Pettinato shoulders much of the load on offense for the Warriors. He averages 20.1 points, not counting the 12 he scored against Manual on Friday. Jon Marota, a 6-foot-6 senior, contributes 13 points per game. He had 13 in the semifinals.
Flaherty said he went to a smaller lineup to add quickness and more scoring. He also has switched to a 1-3-1 zone on defense, similar to what Althoff saw in its super-sectional win over Springfield Southeast.
“I’m a man-to-man kind of guy, so it was hard to make that switch,” Flaherty said. “One of my concerns was that we wouldn’t get rebounds out of the zone. So every day in practice, we’d break it down and drill into the kids that if we’re going to play zone, we have to rebound.
“We’re small, but at any time I can throw three point guards out there, so pressure is part of what we can do. We can do a little better dictating the tempo.”
Althoff Crusaders (31-2)
Colors: Navy Blue and Gold
Head Coach: Greg Leib (22 years, 377-257)
Rank: No. 1 state, No. 2 MaxPreps Xcellent 25
Key Players: Jordan Goodwin (junior/6-3, 215/18.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 93 asst); Tarkus Ferguson (senior/6-4, 185/13.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 87 asst); Brendon Gooch (senior/13.5 ppg/8.1 rpg); Marvin Bateman (junior/6-5, 180/11.1 ppg); C.J. Coldon (junior/10.2 ppg); Keenen Young (senior/6-1, 195/8.9 ppg, 88 asst).
New Lenox (Lincoln-Way West) (22-9)
Colors: Black, Orange and White
Head Coach: Brian Flaherty (9 years, 124-129)
Key Players: Marco Pettinato (junior/6-2, 195/20.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 109 asst); Jon Marotta (senior/6-6, 180/13ppg, 5.3 rpg); Jay Bumstead (junior/5-11, 165/6.9 ppg); Cameron Gavin (senior/6-1, 170/6.4 ppg, 102 asst).