As a dejected Althoff Crusaders team accepted its second-place medals Saturday following a 67-63 championship game loss, Westchester St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore knew exactly what was going through their minds.
This was only the second state championship in 12 visits to the state finals for the Chargers, who won the 1999 Class AA state title and finished second, third and fourth on other occasions.
“What happens is any time you get down here you create Frankenstein’s monster,” said Pingatore, who has 962 victories during a career that began during the 1969-70 season. “(19)78 was our first trip and nothing short of getting back was always the goal, not only with us but with the fans.
“I’d have people come by in given years where we’d win 25 games but we got beat in the sectional and they say ‘What’s wrong with the team?’ I’d say ‘What do you mean what’s wrong with the team, we won 25 games’ — but you didn’t get downstate. That’s what happens. It’s expected when you do it as often as we have.”
With its core group of talented sophomores and juniors, there’s a possibility Althoff could make one or two more state tournament trips the next two seasons. But it’s never easy and in high school basketball, nothing is guaranteed.
“We prepared all year for this moment and it stinks to come up short,” Althoff junior Brendon Gooch said.
In his first two games at the state tourney, Althoff sophomore all-stater Jordan Goodwin did not disappoint anyone. He piled up 41 points, 26 rebounds and 13 assists in the Crusaders’ two state games.
Goodwin and his teammates had hoped to dish out a little revenge to St. Joseph, which had beaten the Crusaders 97-95 in double-overtime at the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout.
“I was pumped, I was like ‘I get my rematch,’’’ Goodwin said. “I just wanted to come out here and leave everything all on the court, which I think I did.”
He got no argument on that point from Althoff coach Greg Leib, who watched Goodwin continually attack the taller St. Joseph front line for baskets and then step out to hit two late 3-pointers to keep things close.
“He played that way all season,” Leib said. “Any time we’d get in a funk or something, Jordan just came out there and played with so much passion. It’s infectious, it really is, and it holds everybody else to a higher standard. That’s a good thing.”
Althoff’s normal starting lineup at the end of the season included sophomores Goodwin, C.J. Coldon and juniors Tarkus Ferguson, Brendon Gooch and Keenen Young. Sophomore Marvin Bateman was the team’s top 3-point shooter this season and sophomore Edwyn Brown also flashed promise at times.
There were eight sophomores on an Althoff team that finished second in the state.
Here comes trouble
A few areas seemed to hurt Althoff particularly hard in Saturday’s title-game loss. The Crusaders hit only four of 13 free throws, including an 0-for-5 performance in the final quarter, and were also outscored 24-6 by the Chargers on fast breaks.
“They were getting run-off buckets and we looked like we were chasing Carl Lewis out there,” Leib said. “We’d miss and they were just getting easy buckets out of it. In the second half, we allowed very few of those. I thought the guys did a great job of adjusting to that.”
Another concern was a 9-for-25 effort from the 3-point line.
“We couldn’t get anything to drop,” Leib said. “I thought we went away a little bit from what we try to do and the guys do a great job of setting each other up. Those things happen in a game like this .
“We were very fortunate to just be down nine going into the locker room (at halftime).”
That didn’t make losing any easier, or the tears any easier to swallow.
“It’s a little easier after you win to come in here and be upbeat and talk about all the positives,” Leib said. “If you come in here happy, you’re not worth your sand out there on that hardwood so we’re as disappointed as anybody.
“It’s a tough situation, nobody’s happy about it. I know you’re supposed to be happy about being up here but when you work like this, you try to get more out of it. It’s a process. We didn’t get done what we needed to get done.”
Along with many of his former players and friends from his years of coaching in the stands at Peoria, the Leib family contingent made the trip over from his eastern Illinois town of Flora.
“I know they cost me over $500 in tickets,” Leib said. “They think I’m making Bill Self money, $15,000 a day. I probably had like 25 to 30 from Clay County and that’s just counting my family.”