Fenwick won its regional championship game against Austin 55-52 on Friday, despite falling behind 9-2 early and missing key free throws down the stretch.
The Friars (20-6), a fourth seed in the Morton Sectional, battled with No. 13-seeded Austin throughout the entire game, as Austin's early seven-point lead was the biggest of the game for either team. Ultimately, better defense in the fourth quarter led the Friars to a narrow victory that was not sure until the very end.
After starting off sluggishly and allowing Austin to get in front, a tightened Fenwick defense and increased offense allowed the Friars to recoup much of the Austin lead by the end of the quarter. Kelvin Johnson, who led the Friars with 15 points, scored on a layup with just over three minutes remaining and then scored on a perimeter jump shot 30 seconds later to get Fenwick back in the game, with Austin leading just 9-6. The quarter ended with Austin leading 11-8.
"We didn't really lose our poise when they got us down," said Fenwick head coach John Quinn.
Because of this determination, the Friars continued to chip away at Austin in the second quarter.
"We moved the ball well and had balanced scoring," said Fenwick forward Peter Flowers.
The first points of the second quarter came when Flowers made a jump shot a minute in. He then followed this up by making both free throws when he was fouled 20 seconds later, giving Fenwick a 12-11 lead. Austin jumped ahead by making 3 of 4 free throws in the next minute, but Michael Alexander tied the game again by fighting through traffic for a baseline layup.
With three and a half minutes remaining in the quarter, Steve Marifjeren put Fenwick up 18-16. However, that lead was taken away by Austin's Huey Erving, who made back-to-back 3-pointers to put Austin ahead, 21-18. Erving would make two more shots from behind the arc in the quarter to finish the half with 17 points.
Johnson kept Fenwick in the game by making two free throws and a jump shot along with a steal and an assist in the final two minutes of the quarter, giving Fenwick a 28-27 lead at halftime. Johnson and Flowers both had eight points at halftime.
In the second half, the Friars continued to score, and Johnson scored four early points in the third quarter, on a long jumper and after a block and quick pass from Alexander. Johnson ended the quarter with 14 total points. Fenwick led Austin 41-38 going into the fourth quarter, and the lead could have been bigger if they had capitalized on free throws.
There was no scoring in the fourth quarter until Flowers made a long two pointer two minutes in. Alexander made two layups in the next minute and a half, and the Fenwick defense held Austin scoreless for nearly four minutes, giving the Friars a 47-41 lead at one point.
However, once Austin scored, they rallied with a free throw, a layup, and two jump shots in the next two minutes, while Fenwick only made one free throw, to tie the game at 48.
In the last two minutes, Fenwick missed four of their six free throws and made only one field goal. However, this was enough to win, as a series of missed Austin shots left the Friars up 55-52 in the end. '
"They [Austin] gave us all they had," said Quinn. "… they didn't want to lose."
Fenwick took on top-seeded St. Joseph, who edged OPRF 59-58 last week, on Tuesday night (after deadline) in the semifinals of the Morton Sectional. A win would pit them against either Lyons Township or Proviso East in the title game on Friday (7:30 p.m.).