When Plainfield North went on a 13-2 run in the third quarter to take the lead on Plainfield East, it looked like the Bengals might have let another game slip away.
Not this time.
The Bengals, the No. 6 seed in the Bolingbrook Sectional, came back strong in the fourth quarter and went on to win the Lincoln-Way North Regional title, 56-44 over the No. 3 seed Tigers in the first-ever all-Plainfield regional final.
“Coach always says to stay together and that is what we did in the fourth quarter,” East point guard Wynston Wright said. “We knew that if we played to our full potential, we would make a run and that is what we did.”
“They came back in the third quarter and that was because they pressured us, which they had never done before,” East senior post Cole Kotopka said. “We weren’t used to it. But we battled through it and that was due to all the hard work we put in. Usually we do collapse, but today we finished the game and won by 12.”
It is the second regional title for East, the first basketball program in Plainfield to win multiple regional titles, despite being the youngest.
“There have been a lot of great players and kids come through here,” East coach Branden Adkins said. “They put us on the map where we are at. This is our 100th win as a program. I’m so proud of everyone who has come through. We built a program.”
Both teams have won two games against each other the past two years and won a conference title each, so this game was the ultimate tiebreaker and revenge for East, which took second in both tournaments it played in this year.
“It feels great,” Wright said. “We talked about always taking second this year and it feels good to finish first.”
“We were even coming in here and we wanted to come out on top,” East guard Aaron Jordan said. “We were tired of taking second place. There was no option here. We had to take first place. It feels great and I’m speechless right now.”
The Bengals led 14-13 after one and 26-21 at the half, despite having their two big men out with two fouls the entire second quarter.
“It was really important,” Kotopka said of maintaining the lead. “I had to play pretty much the whole first half because our two big guys were out. It happens sometimes and I prepared myself for it and we got through it.”
The lead was extended to 33-23 before North’s run gave it a 36-35 lead after three.
East responded and took a 48-42 lead into the final minute of the game and closed the game going 8-for-8 from the foul line.
“We had two bad defensive possessions after us,” North coach Bob Krahulik said. “They broke us down and we didn’t rotate so they got two layups. It was poor defense three possessions in a row.”
For the game the Bengals were 23-of-28 (82%), while the Tigers were 11-of-22 (50%).
“That wins championships,” Adkins said. “Rebounds, free throws and execution. We knocked down some free throws.”
“We battled,” Krahulik said. “I’m proud of my kids’ effort. It just came down to a lack of execution offensively. We didn’t execute any of our sets and were pretty stagnant on offense. We didn’t shoot well in the first half. We missed two or three 1-and-1s. We have to execute and make free throws.”
Jordan finished the game with 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting and took just three shots in the second half after scoring 16 points in the first half as he turned into a passer.
“Over the years I had problems trusting teammates,” Jordan said. “But I’m a senior now and I built a relationship with my teammates and I trust them. I didn’t have to do it all in the second half. They wanted it just as bad as me and we got it done.”
“He found guys,” Adkins said of Jordan. “With that group we wanted to get dribble penetration. Their posts were up high and we were able to get it down low and get easy layups.”
Elyjah Goss added 10 points and eight rebounds and Kotopka scored eight points and pulled down six boards.
Kotopka was on the varsity team as a sophomore, but didn’t finish his junior season with the team, yet came back for his senior campaign. He doesn’t regret that decision.
“I ‘m so happy that I decided to come out and play,” Kotopka said. “That was my goal and I’m not done yet. I’m very happy but I’m not satisfied right now. My decision to come out was probably my best decision so far.”
“We knew he was a football kid. He is a great leader,” Adkins said of Kotopka. “He wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the year but was beating guys out in practice. He finishes with both hands and has been a great leader for us.”
Trevor Stumpe led Plainfield North with 20 points, but finished just 6-of-21 from the floor and 0-for-7 in the fourth quarter.
Stumpe, a 6-foot, 5-inch point guard, was being guarded by Wright, who stood 5-10, but didn’t allow Stumpe to get off open shots after scoring nine points in the first quarter.
“Coach told me I had a big job to do to try and stop Trevor,” Wright said. “I guarded hi some last time we played them. I always watch film on him. I like his game.”
“He stepped up big tonight and stopped Trevor,” Jordan said.
East moves on to play No. 2 Bolingbrook Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Bolingbrook Sectional.
The winner gets the winner of No. 4 Providence and No. 1 Neuqua Valley at 7 p.m. Friday.
No District 202 boys hoops program has won a sectional game.
“We all know each other pretty well,” Wright said of Bolingbrook. “We played them in the summer and the fall league, so it feels really good to play them on their court in the sectional and hopefully we will beat them.”
North ended its season with a 22-5 record and was SPC champs.
“I can’t say I’m happy,” Krahulik said. “Yea, we won the conference title. Yea, we won 22 games. But we had bigger goals and aspirations than that. We fell short and that’s the way it goes. It will hurt for a while.”
The Tigers will be losing several key seniors, including four-year varsity players Stumpe and Jake Nowak.
“We’re going to miss them,” Krahulik said of the seniors. “They are great players and had a great work ethic. They busted their butt.”