Boys basketball: Gabriel Gonzales’ career-high 17 helps power West Aurora past Yorkville in regional semifinal

Unlikely hero posts double-double in 64-53 Blackhawks’ win

Yorkville's Kaevian Johnson (10) encount tough inside defense from West Aurora defenders Calvin Savage (2) and Gabriel Gonzales (24) during a class 4A regional semifinal basketball game at Yorkville High School on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024.

YORKVILLE – Gabriel Gonzales received a bus ride pep talk from West Aurora coach Mike Fowler Wednesday rooted in Fowler’s own playing experience.

But not even Fowler saw this coming.

“I actually told him coming over here you need to focus on defense and rebounding. I didn’t think he was going to score 17,” Fowler said. “But he was around the hoop, we’ll take the 17.”

West Aurora’s 6-foot-7 junior was indeed an unlikely hero with a breakout game that couldn’t have come at a better time. Gonzales scored a career-high 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, helping power ninth-seeded West Aurora to a 64-53 win over eighth-seeded Yorkville in the Class 4A Yorkville Regional semifinal.

Gonzales said his previous career high was 14, but he averaged barely four points per game during the regular season, similar numbers to Fowler during his playing days at West Aurora.

“Coach was telling me that back when he played in high school he averaged four points throughout the whole season, and then in the playoffs he went crazy, scored in double figures every game,” Gonzales said. “Hopefully I could do the same, help my team win.”

Jordan Brooks scored 20 points and C.J. Savage 19 for West Aurora (21-10), which won the rubber game of three meetings with Yorkville to advance to Friday’s regional final against No. 1 seed Bolingbrook. Illinois recruit Jason Jakstys had 14 points and eight rebounds and Bryce Salek scored 14 for Yorkville (18-12).

Gonzales scored all 17 over the first three quarters on 7-for-8 shooting, all the more impressive giving up three inches against the 6-foot-10 Division I commit Jakstys.

Gonzales kept it simple, catching the ball near the rim and going up strong. He scored the last two baskets during West Aurora’s 13-0 run bridging the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third that opened up a 36-25 lead, a margin that eventually ballooned to 15 on two occasions.

“You need someone like that to step up and be big, and he did,” Fowler said. “He went toe to toe with Jason and I couldn’t be more proud of him. You need players to step up besides your normal people.”

Yorkville's Jory Boley (23) looks for a shot and draws a foul from two West Aurora defenders during a class 4A regional semifinal basketball game at Yorkville High School on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024.

West Aurora and Yorkville, one of the better regional semifinal matchups throughout the area, split two regular-season meetings, both winning on their home court. The Blackhawks lost to the Foxes 57-50 in January during a four-game losing streak, but Fowler didn’t take much stock in either result.

“I just knew both times we played both teams were undermanned,” Fowler said. “Tonight was the first time we met each other fully loaded. It was all hands on deck. I was comfortable when we got the seed that we could come in here and get the win. Our boys bought in and got the job done.”

Jakstys, who scored his 14 on 2-for-7 shooting from the floor and 10-for-12 from the free throw line, gave Yorkville its last lead, 25-23, with 2:22 left in the first half with his last made field goal.

Brooks, though, answered with two 3-pointers over the last two minutes of the first half, then started the second with a drive and high-arcing shot over Jakstys for a 31-25 lead.

Meanwhile, Yorkville struggled to get paint touches and dribble penetration against West Aurora’s 1-3-1. Not helping matters, the Foxes missed their first seven 3-point attempts and shot just 2-for-15 from beyond the arc. When Jakstys caught the ball, he was swarmed upon by Blackhawks’ defenders.

“They played a lot more zone than we were anticipating, but we’ve played against a lot of 1-3-1,” Yorkville coach John Holakovsky said. “I just don’t think we handled it well. I think we pressed a lot of times. Good effort, I think trying a little too hard at times. We just struggled to get the ball in the paint. I think they made us play side to side with the zone. It didn’t go our way.”

Yorkville's Jason Jakstys (32) puts a shot up over West Aurora defender Gabriel Gonzales during a class 4A regional semifinal basketball game at Yorkville High School on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024.

Aided by West Aurora turnovers, the Foxes closed to within 53-47 with 3:46 left on a Salek score off a turnover, and had a chance to draw closer after Jakstys took a charge at the other end.

But Yorkville threw the ball away at the other end, and Savage stuck a 3-pointer to get the margin back to nine. The two teams combined for 42 turnovers, several of the Foxes’ unforced.

“We threw the ball away with nobody guarding us like four times. That’s just uncharacteristic, something we haven’t done,” Holakovsky said. “You could tell that we were pressing. We felt good at halftime, but we took a couple bad shots, had a couple turnovers and if you get them going in transition you can’t stop them.”