MIKE NIETO: This is what March Madness is about

2014-03-07T23:00:00Z 2014-03-08T02:35:07Z MIKE NIETO: This is what March Madness is aboutMike Nieto Prep Beat nwitimes.com
March 07, 2014 11:00 pm  • 

NEW LENOX | A packed gym, with both sides screaming to the hilt and it coming down to the final seconds.

That was the scene Friday at the Class 4A Lincoln-Way Central Regional championship as No.6 seed Homewood-Flossmoor upset No. 3 Thornton 49-45.

You could see the joy on the faces of the H-F players and their fans as they rushed the court when the final horn went off.

You could see the frustration on the Thornton players faces as the Wildcats' hopes of a deep tournament run ended. With the sectional at Thornton, the 'Cats were really excited.

It's funny how things change in the course of a few weeks.

Less than a few weeks ago, the Homewood-Flossmoor boys basketball team didn't know if it would even be in the tourney.

Earlier, the Illinois High School Association threw its girls program out of the tournament for violation of by-laws regarding independent team participation, athletic season and open-gym limitations.

"We didn't know what was going to happen and there was nothing we could do but hope," senior Tai Odiase said. "We are grateful we had the chance to play and we just came out tonight and played our hearts out."

Especially Odiase, who had four first-half blocks and took four charges to go with his 16 points.

"We got some tough kids," H-F coach Jim McLaughlin said. "We had some losses by three, four points and it would have been easy for our kids to give up, but they never gave up. We came in to the tourney with 11 losses, but we also played a tough schedule to get us ready for the tournament.

"No doubt, I am proud of my guys. They really came out here and busted their butts."

He also alluded to the fact the Vikings could have been on the outside looking in.

"We are thankful that the IHSA and (executive director) Marty Hickman gave us a chance," McLaughlin said. "We didn't know and it was tough for the kids because they were hearing all kinds of things that we would be out."

There was a key steal and layup by sophomore Kendrick Pryor with 8.3 seconds left to seal the win.

Homewood-Flossmoor (16-11) had a double-digit lead, but Times No. 2 Thornton (20-6) battled back and took the lead. Then it was back-and-forth with each possession being precious. It came down to the end like a regional championship should.

H-F was a team which had no starters back and Odiase, an Illinois-Chicago recruit, was the lone player with much experience. It weathered the storm and a team that might not have even been in the tourney, has won its 10th regional 11 years. It will get Times No. 2 Thornwood on Wednesday at the Class 4A Thornton Sectional, a team it beat 78-63 at the Chicago Heights Classic.

This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at mike.nieto@nwi.com.

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