Boys Basketball: Oswego East pulls away late, beats West Aurora for fourth time to win regional title

Ryan Johnson scores 16 points, Wolves advance to face Bolingbrook

Oswego East's Ryan Johnson (12) shoots a layup over West Aurora's Derrick Mckinney (22) during Class 4A Lockport Regional final game between West Aurora at Oswego East.  Feb 24, 2023.

LOCKPORT – An old adage says that it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season.

How about four?

Oswego East had to battle, but the Wolves defeated West Aurora for the fourth time this season 56-43 Feb. 24 in the Class 4A Lockport Regional championship game.

Ryan Johnson led a balanced attack with 16 points, including nine in the fourth quarter as the Wolves pulled away down the stretch.

“I just had to stay aggressive and look for my shot,” said Johnson, a 6-foot-7 senior guard. “But we’ve got four guys that can score, anyone can score. “But it feels great to win another regional. It’s amazing and this season we want to get to Champaign.”

Oswego East after defeating West Aurora in the Class 4A Lockport Regional final game.  Feb 24, 2023.

It was the ninth straight win for No. 3 seed Oswego East (27-5), which will face No. 2 seeded Bolingbrook, a 50-36 winner over Waubonsie Valley on Feb. 24, on the Raiders’ home court March 1 in the second semifinal of the Bolingbrook Sectional.

Last year, Bolingbrook defeated the Wolves 52-51 in double overtime in the title game of the Class 4A Oswego Sectional and went on to place fourth in the state.

“In these games, it just comes down to who can get stops and who can run their stuff better,” Oswego East coach Ryan Velasquez said. “Possessions matter, and we got enough stops on the defensive end.”

Leading 36-30 after three quarters, the Wolves certainly valued their possessions to open the fourth quarter. They made all four shots as junior guard Jehvion Starwood (14 points) had a layup, and Johnson got a steal and a slam. Senior guard Bryce Shoto, who scored nine points, and Johnson added back-to-back 3-pointers in a quick 10-3 burst as Oswego East led 46-33 with 6:29 to play in the game.

The Blackhawks (18-15), who rallied to defeat Lockport 57-54 in double overtime in the second semifinal Feb. 22, never got closer than nine after that. West Aurora, led by sophomore forward Terrence Smith (16 points, 9 rebounds) lost to Oswego East in the regional title game for the second straight season.

“Ryan had some big shots for us,” Velasquez said. “He played through some early foul trouble and he’s capable of scoring like that. It’s not easy beating a team three times in a season, let alone four.”

Oswego East's Mekhi Lowery (24) makes a move under the basket during Class 4A Lockport Regional final game between West Aurora at Oswego East.  Feb 24, 2023.

Oswego East never trailed. The game was tied twice, at 2-2 and 6-6. Then Oswego East senior guard Mekhi Lowery (11 points) scored six points in an 8-0 run that helped the Wolves to a 14-9 lead after the first quarter. West Aurora closed to 16-11 in the opening minute of the second quarter, but that was as close as the margin got the rest of the way. It was 23-15 at halftime.

Six times West Aurora pulled within six points in the third quarter but never got closer.

“We just had to keep our composure,” Starwood said. “It was tough to play a team four times. They have seen us as many times as we’ve seen them, but we’re just better. I see a state championship in the future for this team.”

At the moment, a regional title is a great thing. It’s the third regional title in the past four played postseasons for the Wolves and the fourth (2010 was the other) since the school opened in fall 2005.

The Wolves won the previous three meetings: 69-51 Nov. 25 in the Hoops 4 Healing Tournament, 61-46 Nov. 29 in the opening Southwest Prairie conference game and 62-53 in the second SPC game Jan. 27 in Aurora.

Joshua Picket (15 points, 4 rebounds) and Calvin Savage (5 points, 5 rebounds),both junior guards, contributed for West Aurora, which had a 31-21 rebounding advantage.

“Oswego East is a very good team,” West Aurora coach Brian Johnson said. “They went to a 1-3-1 defense and are so long that it was hard to score on them. It’s hard to play a team four times and kudos to them for beating us four times. I won’t be surprised if they win the sectional.”