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St. Francis seniors showed they were a class above
By Dave Oberhelman | Daily Herald Staff

St. Francis’ Matt Bonner reacts to committing his fifth foul near the end of the game against Bartonville Limestone Tuesday in the 3A Dekalb supersectional game at the Northern Illinois Convocation Center.


John Starks | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/12/20 11:34 PM

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DEKALB — St. Francis coach Bob Ward once called them “program kids.”

No stars, no flash, any among them a potential top scorer any given game. The Spartans’ all-senior starting five — Matt Bonner, Andrew Kimball, Kevin McShea, Jason Pisarski, Tim Zettinger — delivered the program’s deepest run since a 1989 Final Four berth the old-fashioned way.

Defense. Execution. Never say die. Busting their hump.

As a unit.

That Limestone’s 55-50 supersectional victory Tuesday in DeKalb ended St. Francis’ most successful postseason run in 24 years couldn’t diminish the feat of a class that played together.

“We have five seniors on this team, and that’s the thing that made us special,” forward McShea said.

“We don’t have any Division I basketball athletes going off to play in college,” he said. “None of us are. And who would have thought that we would have made it to the Elite Eight? Not the rankings. But you know what, it’s our seniority leadership and we just kept with it all year long. We just did our best.”

Pisarski, Kimball and Zettinger saw time and even some starts for last season’s St. Francis squad that beat Orr and then Crane to face Marshall in a 2012 sectional final.

The main man then was current Illinois Wesleyan freshman Ryan Coyle. This group was a collective, buying into Ward’s mantra and role-modeling for juniors such as Killian Brown and Zach Prociuk, sophomore Jason Sullivan.

“We’re just the definition of a team,” Kimball said. “Every game we just play together. We all have the leadership abilities to win games.”

This was not lost on Limestone coach Eddie Mathews, who by advancing to the Class 3A semifinals against Morgan Park is in a unique position of going downstate as a player (Brimfield, 1979) and as a coach.

“(St. Francis) looks like that dad that took them as third-graders and they went to play in this tournament, and as fourth-graders they went and they won a couple tournaments,” Mathews said. “It’s like one of those teams, the kids just know where each other is, they play so well together. It’s almost innate, knowing where the ball’s going to go next.”

It was crucial to their success.

“It was someone new stepping up every single game,” Pisarski said, “you never knew who was going to score the most. We don’t even know who the leading scorer was.”

Character and moxie starts at the top. Luring Ward out of the Wheaton North program to take his first head coaching job in 12 years was nothing less than a coup for St. Francis basketball.

Now he must bid his program kids adieu.

“It was an honor to coach these kids,” Ward said in his postgame address. “I’ll never forget this group, never forget this run. But this is the type of group that if we hadn’t made a run I’d feel the same way. It’d be an honor. They’re just that good of kids.”