Boys basketball: Neuqua Valley captures elusive regional title
By Paul Johnson For Sun-Times Media March 1, 2013 10:48PM
Jason Lonn holds the IHSA regional championship trophy aloft as he is hugged by Neuqua Valley teammate Pat Kenny. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 2, 2013 12:11AM
Neuqua Valley seniors Pat Kenny, Darien Miskel and Jabari Sandifer have been on the varsity team for three years, and none of them had experienced a regional championship.
The Wildcats lost the regional title the past three years, twice in overtime and another time by two points. Friday, however, Kenny, Miskel, Sandifer and the Wildcats picked up that elusive title.
Neuqua held off Waubonsie Valley 69-61 to win the Class 4A Oswego East Regional title, despite 33 points from Waubonsie senior Jared Brownridge.
“We’ve been knocking on the door,” Neuqua coach Todd Sutton said. “We’ve been so close. To get this, this one is for Pat Kenny, Darien Miskel and Jabari Sandifer, who had to deal with me for three years. One hundred eighty-plus practices, I think it’s 91 games. They’ve had to deal with me that long, they need a reward.”
Sandifer had only two points as the game was tied 31-31 early in the third quarter. But he helped get Neuqua (28-2) on track from that point on. The Wildcats went on a 16-0 run to take control of the game, and Sandifer scored seven of the points. At one point in the run, Neuqua scored nine points in a 59-second span.
“The third quarter was the difference,” Waubonsie coach Steve Weemer said. “We couldn’t stop them. That was the difference in the game. When you play a good team that’s won 28 games, you have to keep them at bay. We couldn’t make that run.”
The Warriors (21-8) certainly tried behind the hot hand of Brownridge. He scored 15 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Warriors hang around. One of his six three-pointers cut the lead to 66-59 in the final minute, but it wasn’t enough.
“Me and Jared go way back,” Sandifer said. “I’ve played against him since middle school. He’s a great player. We couldn’t do much to stop him. We just pulled it out.”
Sandifer wound up scoring 20 points in the second half to help Neuqua win the game.
“He took some forced shots early,” Sutton said. “The forced shots weren’t going in. We just asked that he trust his teammates in the second half, and things opened up for him and his teammates.”
Neuqua jumped out to an 8-0 lead to start the game, but Waubonsie regrouped. The Warriors went on an 18-4 run that started in the first quarter and stretched into the second quarter. But Neuqua was able to take a 29-25 lead into the half.
“You hate to start out like that,” Weemer said. “I think we were a little nervous. Once we settled in, we made a run and got back into it. We had a great second quarter. But it was the third quarter that was the difference in the game.”
Jefferson had a huge game for Waubonsie as well, scoring 16 points to go with 16 rebounds. Kenny scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for Neuqua.
The Wildcats advance to Wednesday’s Class 4A Bolingbrook Sectional semifinal against Benet.
“I’m really excited,” Sandifer said. “I don’t think anybody expected us to be here at the beginning of the season. I’m just ready to go out and show people that we belong here.”