Boys Basketball: Dennasio LaGioia’s career-high 32 points, eight 3s send Lake Park past Willowbrook

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VILLA PARK – At halftime of Friday’s game, Dennasio LaGioia was casually flinging up 3-pointers.

Swish. Swish. Swish.

The Lake Park junior guard closed out his halftime shooting display by knocking down his final two long-range attempts, then casually walked off the court – without making a facial expression – and found a seat on the bench.

On this night, LaGioia, a special mention DuKane Conference selection, was in the midst of a special night that helped create a lifetime of memories.

With his middle finger and ring finger taped together, LaGioia picked an ideal night for a career-high performance. LaGioia ripped the nets throughout Friday’s game, burying eight 3-pointers for a career-high 32 points to lead the fifth-seeded Lancers to a 66-45 rout over No. 13-seed Willowbrook in the Class 4A Willowbrook Regional championship game.

The Lancers (22-10) advance to play top-seed Benet in a Bartlett Sectional semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

LaGioia joked that he credited his historic shooting to an injury suffered earlier in the day. Before Friday, he said his career high was 19 points.

“I jammed my finger in gym class today, but it actually helped my shooting,” LaGioia said, smiling. “I’m going to keep the tape on. It was amazing. The energy was just flowing. It was an outstanding atmosphere.”

After a sizzling first-half shooting show, LaGioia continued his fiery display from beyond the arc to seal the victory.  He buried a pair of 3s in the third quarter to keep the Warriors from mounting a comeback.

Wearing a headband, LaGioia said he enjoyed playing the Camden Cerese role against the Warriors. Like Cerese throughout the season, LaGioia had the attention of the Warriors’ defense.

He was constantly looking for his shot, running through screens, setting up beyond the arc and gliding his way through the open cracks of the Warriors’ defense in search of points.

The 6-foot-1 LaGioia shot a sizzling 8-of-11 on 3-pointer attempts and added 11 rebounds for a double-double. He also had three steals to make sure the Warriors didn’t pull off another upset win after defeating No. 4-seed Metea Valley. Junior forward Tommy Rochford also played a big part in the win, compiling 15 points, five rebounds and two blocks.

“I had just a lot of confidence in my shot, especially after making my first one,” LaGioia said. “My teammates had a lot of confidence in me too.”

Lake Park coach Billy Pitcher, all smiles in the postgame, was gushing with pride when talking about winning a regional title along with LaGioia’s breakout performance.

“Rochford and LaGioia really stepped up and played great,” Pitcher said. “We played great defense, held them to five points in the first quarter and a half and built a cushion. LaGioia is a great shooter, and our best shooter. We needed that tonight. He’s had some big games, but not at this level.

“Camden’s presence on the court opens things up. You can’t take one guy away. I’m so happy for this group of guys. It was a great win on the road in a tough situation.”

When the Warriors (11-19) gained some momentum from a late surge in the third, LaGioia silenced the large crowd with his shooting. Senior guard Noah Campbell scored 21 points to lead the Warriors.

Despite making eight 3-pointers and turning the ball over only nine times, the Warriors couldn’t overcome LaGioia’s career night.

He opened up the fourth quarter by draining a 3-pointer, in front of Lake Park’s bench, to pad the lead to 47-31. Fifteen seconds later, LaGioia darted to the far corner, squaring up and knocking down another 3-pointer to extend the lead to 50-31.

“After I hit my first (three), I knew it was something special because I usually get hot after I start making a couple,” LaGioia said. “After making my first couple, I realized I was hot and I wasn’t going to stop shooting today.”

Cerese, who set the program’s single-season scoring record, finished with a pedestrian – for him, at least – 13 points, four assists and three steals. Cerese said he enjoyed playing a supporting role on Friday.

“He was making every three out there, so it was awesome to see Dennasio go off,” Cerese said. “I loved it. It opened up things for me, too. They couldn’t help off him. I think if we play good defense, take good shots and don’t turn over the ball, we can beat any time out there.”