JOLIET | If Bloom Township's style and effort in its 41-37 victory against T.F. North on Tuesday night was a painting, it wouldn't be one to hang in The Louvre.
This was more of a velvet Elvis, one found on discount on a street corner, without a frame and with a tattered corner or two.
But a win is a win in the playoffs, and the top-seeded Blazing Trojans, however sloppily, advance to Friday's Class 4A regional final at Joliet Central, where they'll play Sandburg, a 43-36 winner against Minooka.
"We didn't play our best," senior guard Donald Moore said. "We weren't 100 percent dedicated on the defensive end and we weren't running our (offensive) sets all the way through."
That's why the Meteors hung around like an unwanted guest for the better part of 32 minutes. While Bloom (24-3) never appeared to lose control of the game, neither did it run away with it, even though the lead was as many as 11 points at one juncture. By the end, the Meteors were often within five points or less of tying, and, given the location, that stuck in Bloom coach Jasper Williams' head like a migraine.
"When we lost to Sandburg here (on Martin Luther King Day), they hit two 3s to beat us," Williams remembered. "You don't want to be up just six points. We should have been up 15 or 16 points, and we weren't."
The efforts of Moore (15 points) and Lejavius Johnson (8 points, 7 rebounds) helped ease Bloom's path, especially in the second half. It ended up a four-point margin because Torin Washington hit a jumper as time expired. Greg McClain led the Meteors with 14 points.
"It's our story all year," T.F. North coach Tim Bankston said. "We've played all the ranked teams real, real tough, and lose by two or three points. We find a way to lose it.
"We executed our game plan for 30 minutes."
The Meteors, seeded 16th, finish with an 11-17 record, while Bloom, having escaped being upset, will seek a sectional berth on Friday.
"We need more effort on defense," Moore said. "We weren't setting up well; we need to move our feet more. My job this week as a leader is to have the guys ready."
If not, a fine season will end up in a discard pile, like one more old velvet Elvis.