Every postseason game is important, and no team wants to turn in their jerseys any sooner than necessary.
And even though at first glance Monday night's quarterfinal game of the Class 4A Lake Park regional didn't seem like a marquee matchup Elk Grove entered the game 12-15 and the 14th seed in the Schaumburg sectional, with Willowbrook 5-21 and seeded 20th it sure turned out to be intense.
Neither team wanted to end its season on this night, and in a physical and an offense-filled game that went down to the end, Elk Grove prevailed 71-65.
The Grenadiers head back to the Lake Park west campus in Roselle tonight to take on fourth-seeded York at 6 p.m. in the first of two regional semifinal games.
Elk Grove coach Anthony Furman said a big key to his team winning was not to underestimate the Warriors.
"They've got some big kids. Record aside, I knew Willowbrook was going to be a tough opponent," he said.
Free throws were a big factor, with each team going 19-of-26 in that category. They were especially important for Elk Grove in the final quarter with the Grenadiers hitting 17 of 24, which was crucial to finally putting the brakes on the Warriors.
With 2:55 left in the game, a free throw by Zach Solorio, who led all scorers with 29 points, put Elk Grove up 61-52. The Warriors, though, went on a 13-6 scoring run, culminating with 2 free throws from Edvinas Mickevicius (11 points) to put his team to within 2 at 67-65.
Elk Grove sank 4 free throws in the final 21.2 seconds to finally ice the game.
The contest was delayed approximately 20 minutes after a shoving incident occurred with 6:17 left in the game, resulting in a confrontation between the teams. In the end, three Willowbrook players were ejected, one for committing a flagrant foul and earning part of a double technical foul with an Elk Grove player. Two others were ejected for leaving the bench during the incident. An Elk Grove player was also ejected for leaving the bench.
Coaches and officials quickly got things under control, but the officials needed time to decide on the appropriate penalties.
The Grenadiers looked like they would blow the game open, leading 21-10 after the first quarter on 9-of-13 shooting while Willowbrook was just 5-of-14.
The Warriors got on track in the second, shooting 50 percent from the field and leading in rebounding at halftime 18-9. Willowbrook trailed just 30-27 at halftime.
The Warriors led twice late in the third period, but it was Elk Grove holding a slim 44-42 advantage at the end of 24 minutes.
"At times we were stagnant against the zone. Fortunately, we did a nice job from the line and held our composure," Furman said.
Austin Amann had 14 points and 10 rebounds for Elk Grove. Anthony Jimenez had 10.
Willowbrook was led by Joshua Joiner and Ryan Rader with 14 points each. Nicholas Kilianek had 10.