Fieldcrest bounced two opponents over recent action. They dispatched guest Watseka 59-45 in the Feb. 22 regional final. On Tuesday, the Knights defeated Westmont 49-41 at the Peotone Sectional.
Less than 30 seconds into the second quarter, Fieldcrest (22-10) was on the verge of a blowout, as they opened a 19-4 lead.
However, the Knights’ camp knew there was a lot of ball left to be played.
“We said they’re going to come back and make it a game,” commented Fieldcrest coach Matt Winkler. “We needed four quarters to win and we did.”
The Warriors (19-9) closed the gap to 24-16 at halftime and got even closer early in the third quarter. A technical foul was whistled on Fieldcrest’s Jaxon Cusac-McKay and Blake Castronguay sank both free throws to narrow the gap to 24-18.
“After the technical foul, the momentum switched,” said Fieldcrest guard Derek May. “With the four seniors we have, we were able to stay together and get our composure.”
A pair of free tosses by Conner Curry gave Watseka their first and only lead of the evening at 27-26 with four minutes and 50 seconds left in the third.
The teams were tied at 29 and 32 before a bucket from Matt Lorton put the hosts on top to stay at 34-32.
Fieldcrest led 36-32 after three and outscored the Warriors 23-13 in the fourth.
May, who was held scoreless through the first three quarters, scored all 11 of his points in the fourth.
He and his mates were well-aware of the physical nature Watseka plays with on defense.
“We were going to the bucket all night. We were getting hacked and they were not calling anything,” May said. “We have to work on finishing and extending our lead.”
The Knights missed on their initial 11 attempts from beyond the arc before May got one to go down to give the Knights a 45-36 lead.
“I really had my doubts they could keep Jaxon and Derek out of the lane,” explained Winkler. “We spread it out, kept penetrating and trying to finish. We were not able to finish. We only made one three, which is highly unusual.”
Cusac-McKay led the way with 20 points, while 6-foot-5 pivot Clay Wells joined May in reaching 11 points.
Ben Lyznicki led the Warriors with 16 points, while Justin McTaggart added 11.
Besides Wells, two other unsung heroes for the Knights were junior reserves Land (seven points, five rebounds, five assists) and Lorton (four points).
“Huge contributions from those three,” Winkler said. “This time of year, it’s somebody different that steps up. I was so glad for our seniors we won this because this is a close group.”
The result was Fieldcrest’s 13th regional title, while Watseka was denied number 23.
Fieldcrest connected on just six of 27 shots from the field over the initial 16 minutes, but only trailed 20-16 at the break.
“We were pretty gosh darn optimistic at halftime,” stated Winkler. “We came in very positive. We did not play our best basketball. We knew that. We shot the ball awful.”
The Knights held the Sentinels (25-7) without a bucket over the entire third quarter, as Westmont missed all seven of their attempts. A conventional three-point play from Cusac-McKay put Fieldcrest in the lead for good at 21-20.
All told, Westmont went over nine minutes into the second half without a hoop before Caden Anderson ended the drought just over a minute into the fourth period.
“Defensively, we missed some assignments early,” Winkler said. “Second half, our defense was much better. We got out and pressured. We made offense start with our defense.”
Fieldcrest’s lead ballooned to as large as 11.
May posted a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Cusac-McKay added 15 points.
No Westmont player scored in double figures, as Anderson led with nine points.