One city, five high schools, more than 7,800 games over 99 seasons, and a handful of near-misses.
It’s the Althoff Catholic Crusaders that have finally captured the Holy Grail.
With a 62-37 win over Lincoln-Way West Saturday in Peoria, Althoff won the Illinois Class 3A championship and delivered Belleville its first basketball title.
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After the trophy presentation, Althoff students flooded the court to mix with players in celebrating the historic win. The party will continue at 1 p.m. Sunday with a fire truck parade through the city, followed by a pep rally in the school gym.
We've been waiting since last year for this and it's great to finally get it. To end my high school career with a state championship is something I've always dreamed of."
Brendon Gooch, Althoff senior
“When Coach (Glenn) Schott hired me 18 years ago, I remember walking in the gym and saying ‘it’s kind of sparse in here.’ He said ‘the only thing we hang up here is state championships.’” Althoff coach Greg Leib said . “I said OK, I guess I’ll try to get us one.
“Our guys embody Belleville ... They represented their city really well today.”
On the Peoria Civic Center court, which the IHSA claims to be the home of America’s “Original March Madness,” the Crusaders reached the goal they set for themselves after the loss to Westchester St. Joseph in last season’s finale. Anything short of that goal would have been met with disappointment.
“I only remember the loss last year,” said junior Jordan Goodwin, whose 19 points was a team-high for the seventh game in a row. “I’m just happy we won this game. If we would have lost, I don’t know what I would have done.”
The victory came as a relief to the team’s seven seniors, in particular, including those five who were also on the losing end of Althoff’s state championship defeat this past football season.
BELLEVILLE BASKETBALL All-TIME RECORDS (some records may not be complete) Althoff (1932-2016) 1,098-880 Belleville East (1966-2016), 706-596 St. Henry (1965-1984), 143-275 Belleville West (1916-2016), 1,437-1,166
“We’ve been waiting since last year for this and it’s great to finally get it,” said Brendon Gooch, who will begin his college career next fall at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. “To end my high school career with a state championship is something I’ve always dreamed of.”
It was a hard loss for Lincoln-Way West (22-10), a post-season underdog since rallying to a sectional championship.
The Warriors had won six straight, 12 of 13, and advanced to the title game with upset wins over No. 2-ranked Morgan Park at the Joliet Super-Sectional and No. 6 Peoria Manual in Friday’s state semifinal.
“It was a disappointing way to end what has been one of the greatest runs that I have ever been a part of as a head coach,” said Lincoln-Way West coach Brian Flaherty. “What I told them in the locker room is that this is a tough way to lose, but it doesn’t diminish what we accomplished the last few weeks.”
Althoff secured its 32nd win in dominating fashion.
Lincoln-Way West led 14-10 early in the second quarter, but the Crusaders went on to outscore the Warriors 52-25 the rest of the way.
I'm just happy we won this game. If we would have lost, I don't know what I would have done.
Jordan Goodwin, Althoff junior
The onslaught started with a 7-0 run, sparked by Marvin Bateman’s 3-pointer and followed by Tarkus Ferguson’s mid-court steal and layup.
Lincoln-Way West scored just two more field goals the rest of the half, while the Crusaders piled on with another 3-pointer from Bateman, one from Ferguson and one more off the baseline by Goodwin.
Althoff carried a 32-20 lead into the half.
The Crusaders extended the lead to 13 — their biggest of the game to that point —on free throws by Gooch and C.J. Coldon, but didn’t get their first field goal of the half until the 3:39 mark.
But Goodwin got a tip-in off his own missed shot to spark a 9-0 run before the third quarter ended to put Althoff on top, 42-24. The rest was up to the defense.
Where Lincoln-Way West found driving lanes in the first quarter, it suddenly found a cluster of size-advantaged Crusaders. The Warriors connected on six of 25 second-half field goal attempts, including just 2-of-15 from beyond the three-point arc.
“We eliminated the easy buckets and forced them to shoot from outside,” said senior Brendon Gooch. “They are a good-shooting team, but we though if we contested them, hopefully, they’d miss a few.
“They did that in the third quarter when we got on a little run.”
For the second day in a row, Althoff dominated the boards, outrebounding Lincoln-Way West, 39-16. St. Joseph also struggled with Althoff’s size in the semifinal, crumbling beneath the Crusaders’ 21-13 rebounding advantage.
“The rebounding, I don’t know,” Leib said, while shaking his head. “We really limited them to one shot down. Our defense creates offense and makes it so our guys can run a little bit. But, you know, the shots come and go, but you can guard every night. The guys bought into that. I just thought their defense was outstanding.”
Goodwin was Althoff’s top scorer for the seventh game in a row with 19 points to go with a game-high 10 rebounds. Ferguson scored 11 points with seven rebounds.
Lincoln-Way West’s Marco Pettinato, who was named to the Illinois Basketball Coaches’ Association All-State second team after averaging 21 points per game, was held to 10 against Althoff. Cameon Gavin also scored 10.
Manual Claims Third
Peoria Manual earned a 56-55 overtime win over Westchester St. Joseph in the 3A third-place game.
The game went into the extra four-minute period tied, 49-49. Neshawn Brooks hit the first of a pair of free throw attempts with four seconds left in overtime to put Manual ahead by one.
St. Joseph called a timeout to set up the last-second shot. Jason Towers’ full-court in-bound pass found Nick Rakocevic under the basket, but the 6-foot-11 all-state center missed the off-balanced shot at the buzzer.
Rakocevic was the games high scorer with 26 points and top rebounder with 13. Da’Monte Williams and Ramon Douglas-Watkins had 12 each for Manual.
The win marks the 15th time in its stories history that Manual (27-5) has placed in the state’s top four. The Rams were champions in 1930 and four consecutive years from 1994-97.
St. Joseph (25-10) was the Crusaders semifinal opponent Friday. The Chargers have placed in the top four six times, including championships in 1999 and 2015, all under legendary coach Gene Pingatore.