GENOA – For a moment, it looked as though the Sycamore boys basketball team was going to do it again.
In a postseason run that featured two straight nail-biting victories, the Spartans were on the wrong end of a one-point game and lost, 38-37, to Marengo in the Class 3A Genoa-Kingston Sectional championship Friday night at Genoa-Kingston High School.
The Spartans, who won their two previous games by one point, had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but Sycamore senior Jack Mizgalski’s last-second shot rolled off the rim.
“When Jack’s shot rolled in and rolled out, I told the guys I didn’t have anything but a smile on my face,” Sycamore coach Ryan Picolotti said. “To put ourselves in a situation like that and have a chance to win it at the buzzer ... I can’t be more proud of the guys.”
Sycamore (14-16) trailed by as much as 11 in the second half, but stormed back to cut it to one midway through the fourth quarter.
During the postseason, the Spartans had won on a last-minute 3-pointer by Mizgalski in a 37-36 victory over Kaneland in the regional championship, and then beat Belvidere in the sectional semifinal when James Marcinkowski’s free throws with 0.1 seconds remaining gave them a 36-35 win Tuesday.
All three games of the G-K Sectional were decided by one point, with Marengo beating Glenbard South, 50-49, Wednesday in the other semifinal.
Marengo led Sycamore, 38-37, with less than seven seconds left when Indians star guard Mike Volkening missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Sycamore grabbed the rebound with no timeouts and raced up the floor.
Sycamore senior guard Ty Sulaver admitted that he was thinking that the Spartans were somehow going to pull out their third straight dramatic victory.
“Especially with Jack being as good of a player as he is, that would have been picture-perfect, and everybody on the team trusts Jack with the ball in his hands,” Sulaver said.
However, there wasn’t enough magic left for the Spartans as Mizgalski’s midrange jumper from the right side fell off.
“All I could think about going down the court was, ‘We have a chance to win this,’ ” Mizgalski said. “The shot just didn’t happen to go down.”
Like the win against Belvidere, Marcinkowski grabbed an offensive rebound and went to the line for two free throws, but the senior split the pair with 6.9 seconds remaining to trim the deficit to 38-37.
Sycamore senior Keyshawn Stallworth finished with 10 points (eight in the second half) and 10 rebounds, and Sulaver added 10 points and five rebounds. Sulaver also hit a 3-pointer with 1:05 left in the game to trim Marengo’s lead to 38-36.
Volkening scored a game-high 24 points for the Indians.
Sycamore put on a strong defensive effort in the first quarter, taking a 12-4 lead and holding Volkening scoreless in the quarter. However, he scored 13 of Marengo’s 18 points in the second quarter to give the Indians a 22-18 lead at halftime.
Marengo (25-7) ballooned the lead to as much as 11 when a layup by Alexander Schirmer put the Indians ahead, 29-18, with 3:10 left in the third quarter.
Then Stallworth took on the scoring load.
The senior post scored six straight points – including a three-point play – late in the third quarter to cut it to single-digits. Sycamore junior guard Ethan Heinrich made two 3-pointers, including on the first possession of the fourth quarter, to cut Marengo’s lead to 32-30.
“It was Keyshawn, he brought that momentum back,” Mizgalski said. “During a timeout, we told him he has to take over, and he did. ... He brought us back in the game.”
The Spartans cut the deficit to one on two occasions in the fourth quarter but couldn’t take the lead.
For Sycamore, the loss ended an unexpected playoff run for a team that was 10-15 heading into the regular-season finale. For Sulaver, who plans to study at Iowa State, it closes the chapter of his prep athletic career that included a regional title in basketball and a trip to the Class 5A semifinals in football this past fall.
“I don’t look back at football and still cry about it; I’m so happy about it,” Sulaver said. “It’s a sense of accomplishment, and that’s how basketball is. I know that I’m going to look back on it in a week and know how awesome it was and how nobody expected to go on this run.”
By the numbers: Heinrich finished with nine points, Marcinkowski had six points and six rebounds and Mizgalski added two points. The Spartans shot 13 for 41 (31.7 percent) from the floor. The Indians were 14 for 32 (43.6 percent).
Beyond the stats: The Spartans had a tough shooting stretch in the middle of the game. Spanning the second and third quarters, they went 9:44 without a field goal. Mizgalski made a jumper to give the Spartans a 17-13 lead with 4:23 left in the second, and they didn’t make a basket until a layup by Stallworth cut the Marengo lead to 29-21 with 2:16 left in the third.
They said it: “In 10 years, you’re not going to think about the shots you missed or the things you did wrong, you’re going to tell your kids about the things that went right on that run,” Picolotti said.