Lakes senior guard Jay-Jay Elvir was holding a piece of snipped twine Friday night when he smiled widely and asked Eagles boys basketball coach Chris Snyder, “Can I get seconds?”
Snyder was happy, too — about a first.
Lakes captured its first regional championship in program history when it defeated host Carmel Catholic 43-35 in a Class 3A playoff game in Mundelein.
“We stuck together tonight and showed good resolve there at the end,” said Snyder. “I’m real proud of this group. Winning a regional was a goal, something we’d been talking about all season.”
Lakes (19-10) will face Ridgewood in a Grayslake Central sectional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Host Ridgewood downed Vernon Hills 66-56 in another regional final Friday night.
Lakes, which led 23-15 at the half, limited Carmel (11-15) to 2 points in the second quarter and 6 in the third.
“Defense, team defense, was the key,” said tireless Eagles junior guard/forward Direll Clark, who finished with almost as many floor burns (4) as points (5).
“I’m kind of banged up now,” added Clark, an integral member of Lakes’ first football state quarterfinalist last fall. “My elbow and my knee are hurting, but that’s OK.”
Winning has a way of easing the sting of injuries.
Eagles 6-foot-8 senior center Justin Schneider hit the floor often as well, taking four charges, including three in the fourth quarter when he also stole a pass and blocked two shots.
Coach Snyder figured his big man now has taken 35 charges this winter.
“We keep track of hustle stats, and taking charges is one of them,” Snyder said. “We told our players that if we did well in hustle stats tonight, we’d win.”
Taking a charge is worth one hustle-stat point in Snyder’s program.
“It should be worth a couple of points,” said a grinning Schneider.
Carmel was 2 points better than Lakes in the final quarter and got as close as 38-32 with 1:01 left. Lakes committed 7 of its 17 turnovers in the final eight minutes, while a game bunch of Corsairs used ‘3’ balls from Andy Kantor Ian Kristan and Joe Molloy to stick around.
“We battled, and we came in battle-tested,” said Corsairs coach Tim Bowen, noting six other East Suburban Catholic Conference teams played for regional titles Friday night. “We had good shots, good looks. But we just couldn’t finish.”
Carmel was 4-of-15 from the field in the fourth quarter.
Lakes senior guard Tanner Blain led all scorers Friday night with 12 points. His back-to-back treys in a 31-second span in the first quarter established an 8-2 lead. Junior teammate Andrew Spencer nailed another three-pointer seconds after entering, upping the advantage to 11-4.
Carmel sophomore Nickai Poyser (team-high 11 points) then netted 7 points in a 9-3 spurt. The hosts trailed only 14-13 after one quarter.
Kristan scored Carmel’s two points in the second stanza.
Elvir’s put-back bucket, at 5:18, highlighted Lakes’ third quarter.
“When we got together at the beginning of the season, we looked at dates,” said Schneider, referring to calendar days, not the fruit. “This is where we wanted to be on this date.”
On March 2, Lakes junior reserve guard Jake Kohler finished with 9 points (5 in the fourth quarter) and 6 rebounds, and Elvir contributed 8 points and 2 steals before using scissors atop a ladder to collect his victory strand.
Senior guard Connor Jordan scored 7 points for Carmel. Classmate Brandon Motzel came down with a team-high 8 boards