WOODSTOCK – As the game clock ticked to zero, Matthew Cooney reminisced.
St. Francis’ desperation inbound was just knocked away and Rockford Boylan began celebrating with its 51-47 sectional semifinal victory in hand.
Boylan (21-10), advanced to play Burlington Central in the sectional final at 7 p.m. Friday.
The mind of Cooney, a Spartans' senior, immediately reverted to timeless memories. His father was his little league coach up until eighth grade. His team, the West Chicago Blue Devils, was “where he had his first family”.
St. Francis effectively molded his second in the basketball sense.
The Spartans began the season 1-7, but fought all the way to the doorstep of a sectional final berth with victories over Brother Rice, Montini and Glenbard South along the way.
“We created a family. I’ve known these boys – some of them since seventh grade,” said Cooney, who scored 11 points in his final game. “We’re trying to carry on a tradition where we can get to this point and farther every single year.”
St. Francis (15-16) fell behind 30-22 at the half, and Rockford Boylan sophomore forward Anthony Brown converted two consecutive baskets to open the third quarter. It was there the Spartans woke up offensively.
St Francis forward John Detloff responded with two baskets of his own and Michael Cascella fired his only three of the contest to close the Spartans within three. Cooney then knocked down a turnaround jumper and Detloff hit a pair of free throws to take back the lead, 35-34.
“They key for us was we’ve been in that situation pretty much all year,” Rockford Boylan coach Brett McAllister said of the third quarter St. Francis run. “Our kids weren’t rattled at all, we just had to get back to what we were doing.”
Sure enough, Boylan senior Ben Ambrose converted a three point play to take a 39-36 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I thought we did a great job fighting back,” St. Francis coach Erin Dwyer said. “I love my players. We asked them to kinda turn it up a notch...we have three basic principles [on defense], and I just gave them a reminder to focus on those things and trust those things.”
“Our three principles on defense are: No layups, no uncontested shots and no second-chance shots, and we thought we did that pretty well today...I thought we played a pretty clean game and gave ourselves a chance to win,” Cooney said.
With 4:34 remaining in the game, St. Francis found itself within two. Andrew Harvey, who had 18 points, scored on a putback.
St. Francis didn't score again until Cooney’s made free throws with 28.8 left, but only trailed by three at 47-44. That stretch included a Harvey missed three-pointer, another Harvey three attempt blocked in the left corner and a Cooney miss in the lane.
Brown followed up with a layup and two made free throws to essentially close the game.
Cooney wasn’t finished.
The 6-foot-1 guard splashed a deep three with three seconds remaining, and Ambrose missed a free throw to allow for one final shot, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“I still thought we were gonna win up until the last nine seconds. I just felt like someway we’d find a way, but they played really well,” Dwyer said.