HEBRON | At the beginning of this school year, Whiting junior Joseph Hawkins lived in Mississippi.
His family moved to Whiting in September. First-year Whiting coach Tim Hopps, a five-year student manager at Valparaiso University under Homer and Bryce Drew, met with Hawkins' father to discuss the basketball team.
All hasn't been exactly smooth for Hawkins, but he had quite a welcome to Hoosier Hysteria on Friday night in the Class 2A Hebron Sectional semifinals.
Hawkins came off the bench for the Oilers to score a game- and career-high 18 points to lead Whiting to a 47-43 come-from-behind victory over the host Hawks.
"He's learning what the sectional is all about," Hopps said. "He stepped up and that was huge for us."
Whiting (13-8) will take a six-game winning streak into tonight's title game against state-ranked No. 5 Bishop Noll (20-3), which took control in the second quarter of a 76-43 pummeling of River Forest.
In a game that had 16 lead changes, Whiting rallied from a 37-34 deficit in the last three minutes to eliminate the Hawks (13-10).
Hebron trailed 29-24 late in the third quarter, but the Hawks put together a 9-2 run to take a 33-31 lead on a 3-pointer by Bryce Hanaway with 5:48 remaining. But Hawkins hit a 3-pointer with 5:02 left to give the Oilers a 34-33 advantage.
The Oilers' press then took its toll on Hebron. Whiting came up with five consecutive steals in the final three minutes, and a 3-pointer by Matt Dvorscak with 1:44 remaining gave the Oilers a 39-37 advantage they would never relinquish.
"I knew that shot was going to be good," Hopps said. "He's a senior so I knew he would step up and make it. That was huge for us."
The Oilers converted 6 of 8 free throws in the final 1:04 to secure the win. Dvorsak added 12 points for Whiting, while Hebron (13-10) was led by Hanaway with 11.
"We got discombobulated a little against their press," Hebron coach John Steinhilber said. "We just flattened out and made mistakes. You can't do that. But I'll take my guys against anybody. We had a pretty good year."
Whiting hasn't lost a game since falling 60-46 to Noll on Jan. 31.
"The biggest thing is containing their 3-point shooters and keeping them off the offensive boards," Hopps said. "We feel like we have improved not only throughout the season but whenever we play a team a second time."
In the nightcap, River Forest led 14-12 with 2:59 remaining in the first quarter when Noll coach Josh Belluomini called a timeout. The Warriors responded with a game-clinching 22-1 run.
"They're a very talented group; everyone knows that," Belluomini said. "But I just didn't think we were focused at all. They're just so talented, but they can still beat a team by 30."
Tyreon Gates led Noll with 22 points and six rebounds, while Larry Crisler had 16 to go along with six boards.
The highlight of the night was a steal by Gates late in the third quarter. Racing to the other end, he threw an alley-oop pass off the backboard that Crisler jammed home. He was called for a technical for hanging on the rim, but it didn't matter at that point.
"Whiting is a good team and we definitely want to come out focused," Belluomini said. "We can play up to 11 guys and the biggest thing is our depth, because someone can step up and win a game. That's where it can come in handy. The guys know better and they'll be ready (Saturday)."
For River Forest (9-12), Brandon Laas scored 11 points.