Boys basketball: Youth no deterrence for Aurora Christian

Eagles fend off furious Serena rally to secure place in Elite Eight

Aurora Christian's Marshawn Cocroft drives the lane against Serena's Tanner Faivre at the Class 1A Boy's Basketball  Super Sectional on Friday , March 1, 2024 at Harvest Christian Academy  in Elgin.

ELGIN – Fielding a starting lineup that includes 4 sophomores and a senior, Aurora Christian may have one of the youngest high school basketball teams in the state this season.

It doesn’t faze the Eagles one bit.

Displaying experience beyond their years, the Eagles (24-8) withstood a furious late rally from Serena to knock off the top-seeded Huskers 61-52 during Friday’s Class 1A Harvest Christian sectional finals in Elgin.

Aurora Christian led 44-33 early in the 4th quarter following senior Cam Morel’s 3-pointer before Serena went on a 14-6 run, capped by Carson Baker’s layup off a steal from teammate Tanner Faivre, to trim the Eagles’ lead to 50-47 with 3:57 remaining.

After a timeout, Morel found Jalen Carter all alone in the corner, and the sophomore canned the 3-pointer — his only basket of the game — to make it 53-47 with 3:29 left.

Serena senior Hunter Staton shoots a 3-pointer against Aurora Christian during the Class 1A Harvest Christian Sectional championship game Friday, March 1, 2024, in Elgin.

Serena never got closer than 6 points the rest of the way.

“Jalen has hit enormous threes for us in three straight games,” said Eagles coach Dan Beebe. “In the regional final, he hit two threes in overtime (against Earlville). In the sectional semifinals, he hit two threes in the fourth quarter (against Rochelle Zell), and tonight, he hit that three.”

Trailing 13-9 after 1 quarter, the Eagles outscored the Huskers 22-7 in the second quarter to grab a 31-20 halftime advantage.

Sophomore guard Marshawn Cocroft scored 15 of his 17 first-half points in the second quarter, including 7 consecutive points that turned a 15-12 deficit into a 19-15 lead.

“We kept running ball screens, and they (Huskers) weren’t stopping it,” said Cocroft. “They weren’t making any adjustments, so Coach (Beebe) told us to keep running pick and rolls. It just let me go from there, and that’s what I did.”

Aurora Christian's Asa Johnson shots a jumper against Serena at the Class 1A Boy's Basketball  Super Sectional on Friday , March 1, 2024 at Harvest Christian Academy  in Elgin.

Cocroft finished with a game-high 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists, as the Eagles captured their first sectional title since 2020.

“That’s Marshawn’s game,” said Beebe. “If you let him go downhill, he’s going to hurt you. Marshawn is special.”

Morel, who scored the 1,000th point of his career early in the opening quarter, added 18 points, including four 3-pointers, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 assists.

“This means a lot,” said Morel. “The atmosphere was fantastic. The place was already packed when we showed up for warmups.”

“I couldn’t call a set play in the first half because they couldn’t hear me,” said Beebe. “It was a tremendous atmosphere, and we beat a fantastic team.”

Sophomores Jacob Baumann and Asa Johnson tallied 6 and 4 points, respectively, for the Eagles.

“They have a lot of experience, but they’re still young,” said Beebe. “They’re playing with a tremendous amount of poise. When they made that run against us in the fourth quarter, we just made a couple plays and got ourselves back.

“We were down in the regional final. We were down in the sectional semifinals, and we just figure out a way. That takes a lot of poise, a lot of tenacity — a lot of things that our kids have.”

With the win, Aurora Christian advances to Monday’s DeKalb supersectional against Pecatonica (6 p.m.) at Northern Illinois University.

“That’s the reason why we go to the State Farm Classic (in Bloomington) because you play on a 94-foot floor,” said Beebe.

Aurora Christian defeated Pecatonica, 57-54, on Dec. 30 at the State Farm Classic.

“We were down 42-21 at halftime and beat them in overtime,” said Beebe. “We’ll need to get off to a better start.”

Hunter Staton led Serena with 19 points.