Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton wasnt sure how his team pulled away in the second half of Wednesdays Class 4A regional against host Oswego East.
With 5:06 left in the third quarter, CJ Vaughan split a pair of free throws for the Wolves, tying the game 24-24.
From that point Neuqua Valley outdistanced itself from Oswego East, going on a 37-22 run, culminating in a 61-46 victory for the third-seeded Wildcats, who move to 24-2 on the year.
Neuqua Valley will face rival Waubonsie Valley in Fridays regional final.
I really dont know what happened, Sutton said. It was tied and I was stressing and then the next thing you know we were up by 10. It was a hard-fought game.
The Wildcats held Vaughan to just 11 points on 3-of-15 shooting from the field and Sutton was quick to credit the defense of senior guard Brad Mikulecky.
Brad might be the best defender weve ever had at Neuqua Valley, Sutton said. We trust Brad to guard a teams best player.
The Wolves took the lead on two occasions and never trailed by more than five points in the first half.
A 7-0 Oswego East run in the third quarter was started by a pair of inside baskets from Tyler Ross and finished with Vaughans free throw that tied the game.
From there the Wildcats and senior Jabari Sandifer took control. After scoring only 4 points in the first half, the Western Illinois-bound point guard finished with 19 of his game-high 23 points in the second half.
(Oswego East) was playing a box-and-one on me and its difficult to score on that, Sandifer said. But my teammates kept looking for me, I felt confident in myself, and even after I missed a few shots, I knew I just had to keep shooting.
Sandifer scored 15 straight at one point, including a pair of fastbreak layups on back-to-back possessions to start the fourth quarter, giving his team a 41-31 lead.
Oswego East cut the deficit to 43-40 when Kendall Dorsey caught an inbounds pass and knocked down a short jumper.
The Wildcats again took control and put the game out of reach.
Pat Kenny connected on a baseline jumper, Darien Miskel split a pair of free throws, Sandifer followed with a tip-in off the inbounds, and Miskel finished with a layup to the left side that capped a 7-0 Neuqua Valley run.