CHICAGO HEIGHTS — History was not on Lemont’s side.
But now it is.
For the first time since 1975, Lemont’s men’s basketball team won a sectional championship. Rokas Castillo scored a game-high 21 points as Lemont stunned Thornton, 56-49, Friday night to claim the Class 3A Marian Catholic Section championship.
Lemont (27-7) will face Simeon, a 71-51 winner over Hyde Park at 6 p.m. Monday in the UIC supersection.
“Winning a sectional championship for Lemont is huge,” Castillo said. “We won it for our school, for our coach.”
The last to play in a section 31 years ago and the last to win one in 1975, Lemont was the new kid on the block. His opponent, Thornton was playing in his 57th section after winning his 50th regional championship, to go along with seven district titles.
But none of that mattered on Friday.
“I’m just happy and proud,” Lemont coach Rick Ruunas said. “I can come and train and train these kids again tomorrow. I told them before the game not to expect bad words from me. We still have three games after that, I’ll save my big words for later.
With Castillo, who injured his left knee in the win over Hillcrest on Tuesday, hitting four 3-pointers in the first half, there was no need for words. Lemont took the lead for good on a 3-point shot from junior forward Joseph Pender with 3:06 left in the first quarter. It was 16-9 after a quarter and 27-16 at halftime.
“I took ibuprofen and there was no way I was going to miss that game,” Castillo said of his injury. “The [first half 3-pointers] were big. I had been in a slump but I felt it. I had confidence. »
Thornton (22-6) closed down four points twice in the second half, including 36-32 with 1:41 left in the third quarter. But Lemont held onto the next five points to go ahead, 41-32, after three.
Up 53-49, Castillo made 3 of 4 free throws in the final 22.2 seconds to clinch it.
His twin brother, fellow junior guard Matas Castillo and sophomore forward Nojus Indrusaitus each added 10 points for Lemont.
Senior forward Arihon Herring had 15 points and junior guard Vincent Rainey added 14 for Thornton. But star player Ty Rodgers was limited to six points and fouled early in the fourth quarter.
“We just came out in a 1-2-2 and fell on him,” Rokas Castillo said of Rodgers’ defence. “We had a goal at the start of the season to be the first Lemont team in a long time to get this far. Our chemistry is crazy.
It was the 31st time the Wildcats had played in a section since the 1976-77 season and they won 10 section titles during that span. On the other hand, it was Lemont’s only second Sweet 16 appearance.