Photo: Juniors Mitchel Groen (left) and Ryan David fight for a rebound Friday against Hampshire. Photos by Laura Gampfer
Kaneland survives Burlington Central, falls to Hampshire in Regional Championship
BURLINGTON, ILL.—A great defensive battle against Burlington Central March 4 saw Kaneland boys basketball shoot 11 free throws in the fourth quarter while scoring zero field goals to win 53-46.
Two nights later, the Knights could not overcome a 20-point first quarter deficit to the Hampshire Whip-purs in a 71-63 loss in the Class 3A Regional Championship.
Burlington Central struck first with a 10-4 run in the first five minutes of the contest. Rockets guard TaVonte Harris led the way with a pair of three-pointers en route to five first-quarter points. Kaneland kept themselves in it early thanks to aggressive play by guard Connor Fedderly (14 points) and forward Ryan David (14 points). Burlington Central sophomore Joseph Ratzek hit a trey at the end of the first frame to give the Rockets an 18-11 lead.
After Burlington Central center Ryan Fitzgerald scored four straight points to open the second quarter, Kaneland came out on fire offensively. A 4-0 run led by Fedderly (six points on two three-pointers in the quarter) cut the Rockets’ lead to two in the first two minutes. Although the Rockets matched their extremely fast offensive tempo with good ball distribution, they managed only seven points in the second frame, thanks to Fitzgerald and guard Andrew Wiss. Two-point field goals by David and guard Dylan Vaca (six points), along with a three-pointer by forward Steven Limbrunner and a trey by Fedderly, cut Burlington Central’s lead to 25-24 at halftime.
Burlington Central went on a 12-3 run in the first 3:45 of the second half. With the Rockets lead at 10, the Knights came roaring back behind three three-pointers from David, Vaca and guard Mark Lilly (10 points). Forward Zach Douglas’ two free throws allowed Kaneland to take the lead with 1:36 to go in the third quarter. The Knights took a 42-40 advantage into the final period of play.
The fourth quarter was both a defensive battle and perplexing offensive stalemate throughout most of the final frame. Both teams were held scoreless through the first 4:43 of the last quarter until Rockets’ guard Luke McCurdy hit his only two points of the contest—a field goal-to tie the game. David hit two free throws to give the Knights their first points of the quarter. As Kaneland kept drawing fouls late, the Knights proceeded to shoot nine more free throws—three from Lilly and six from Fedderly—without hitting a single field goal to seal the win for Kaneland.
“That’s what this team needs me to do. I’ve been there before; (I’ve) been the end-of-the-game guy for three years now. I’m pretty confident at the line,” Fedderly said. “I know that I’m a senior leader on this team. If I bring my level of intensity down, then everyone else will. I’ve been here four years. I know how to crank it up at the end and stay intense the whole time.”
Head coach Brian Johnson was pleased with his team’s effort.
“We kept getting stops. Even though we turned the ball over, we kept getting stops, and that’s the name of the game,” Johnson said. “Our goal is to keep teams to 44 points a game. They (Burlington Central) came out strong to start the third quarter. We just started hitting some big shots. Dylan (Vaca) hit a big three. Mark (Lilly) hit a big three. We had some big put-backs (and) some offensive rebounds. You gotta make good plays to win big games, (and) it’s not one guy who steps up. It’s a bunch of different guys who step up. It was definitely a unified effort.”
When asked if he’d ever coached a Regional game that didn’t have his team score a regulation basket in the fourth quarter, Johnson said, “Definitely not,” with a laugh.
On Friday, the No. 1-seeded Hampshire Whip-purs broke quickly out of the gate to start the first half. Hampshire went on a 6-0 run in the first 1:15 of the first quarter. Despite two early three-pointers by David (14 points), the Knights had a slow offensive attack to start the game. Kaneland committed five team fouls early on as its defense faltered, as well. Whip-purs forward Brennen Woods poured in 13 first- quarter points of his own as Hampshire led 30-10 after the first frame.
Kaneland slowly began to show some fire on offense in the second quarter. Center Jacob Gomes scored four straight points to begin the quarter for the Knights, and scores by Lilly (six points), Fedderly (three points) and forward Limbrunner (Kaneland game-high 20 points) helped the Knights to tally 13 points in the second frame. The Whip-purs tied Kaneland with 13 points of their own and took a 20-point lead into halftime.
Kaneland began a furious comeback to start the second half. Limbrunner fired three treys and Vaca (10 points) added one of his own. David and Douglas (four points) chipped in field goals as Fedderly showed early aggression on defense. Despite 13 third-quarter points scored by Hampshire, the Whip-purs were outscored by the Knights 18-13. Hampshire took a 56-41 lead into the final period of play.
“We were down by 20 (points) or so. We were all just talking at halftime about getting it (the deficit) down to 10,” Limbrunner said. “Get into the fourth quarter down by 10 (and) give us a chance to come back. You’ve just gotta fight hard and not give up. In the first half, our defense was not up to where we needed it to be exactly. We just needed to step it up more on defense.”
The Knights began a last-ditch rally in the fourth quarter. Limbrunner connected on two more three-pointers early on as Kaneland fans began chants of “MVP! MVP!” and the Knights cut Hampshire’s lead down to 11. Hampshire continued to keep the surging Knights at bay as Matt Bridges scored 10 points in the final period. Another trey by Vaca and two-of-two free throws by David cut the lead to 11 again late in the game. Limbrunner drilled his sixth three-pointer of the game to cut Hampshire’s lead down to eight with 29.4 seconds to go in the contest. The Knights would draw no closer as Hampshire retained possession in the final seconds to seal the win and the Class 3A Regional Championship for the Whip-purs.
“Steven (Limbrunner) was outstanding. (He) put on a show. What a way to go out as a senior,” Johnson said. “What Steven did tonight was special. He’s one of those kids that’ll be there (practicing) at 6 in the morning, working on his game whether you know it or not. He doesn’t tell anybody. He just goes and works.”
“We were down 20 (points) at the end of the first quarter. You can only fight so much. I’ll give credit to our guys. They never gave up and made a game out of it. You can’t dig a hole that big in the first quarter and expect to win the game. Hampshire’s a good team,” Johnson said. “They were able to find the open man and hurt us when we were trapping. That’s (having poor starts) been an issue for us all year. When we’ve started well, we’ve been in games. When we’ve started poorly, we usually lose by a lot. (Our boys) fought hard. Connor Fedderly (was) consistent and really worked hard, and so did Zach Douglas.”
Johnson took time to reflect on the 2014-15 season.
“At times we struggled, and we played poorly. At times we looked liked world-beaters and played well and played really hard. The season was an up and down roller coaster. At one point we were 2-7, and to finish 14-16; to be the only team to beat DeKalb (Barbs) in our league; to beat Central on their own floor, and the playoffs; that says something to how hard the boys worked, and how they never gave up,” Johnson said. “These guys stuck with it and fought hard.”
“We started off rough—I think 1-6. We just told ourselves (that) we can’t have a season like that,” Limbrunner said. “So we battled back and got to .500 midway through the season, I’m sure. Around mid-season, we just kept fighting and got ourselves to the Regional Championship.”