Boys basketball: Crystal Lake South smothers Freeport early on way to 80-49 win in Kaneland Sectional semi

Crystal Lake South's Christian Rohde dunks the ball during a IHSA Class 3A Kaneland Sectional semifinal against Freeport on Feb. 27, 2024, at Kaneland High School in Maple Park.

MAPLE PARK – Crystal Lake South may not have been capable of getting off to a better start than it did against Freeport on Tuesday.

AJ Demirov hit a 3-pointer, then Colton Hess scored on a three-point play.

On the defensive end, the Pretzels either got one shot and were done or committed turnovers. On the other end, if the Gators did miss, they just grabbed offensive rebounds and scored.

After a 40-minute delay for the tip-off because of a tornado warning, South eliminated any drama and ran away for an 80-49 victory Tuesday in the Class 3A Kaneland Sectional semifinal.

The Gators (30-3) will play the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between Belvidere North and Kaneland at 7 p.m. Friday for the championship.

The teams were about 10 minutes from tip-off when the gym was cleared for a tornado warning for about 40 minutes. Everyone then re-entered the gym, and the teams warmed up again for 15 minutes before South unleashed a furor on the Pretzels.

“I said to my assistants that we were either going to start fast or start slow, I don’t know which one, after the delay,” Gators coach Matt LePage said. “We attacked the glass. Second-chance baskets and our shot-making was good, with our defense.

“You put those things together and our ability to rebound, we had a good night. That’s for sure.”

South had a 26-11 rebound advantage at halftime. Freeport had no starters taller than 6-foot-2, while the Gators have four starters 6-5 or taller. Christian Rohde, South’s 6-8 center, yanked down nine rebounds in the first half.

“One of our non-negotiables at the beginning of the season was to rebound,” Rohde said. “The main focus is rebounds are going to win the game. We did that well. On defense, we know they’re a fast-paced team, and we controlled them and slowed them down.”

Demirov led the Gators with 23 points and handed out 12 assists. Tony Santarelli hit 7 of 8 from the field for 16 points, while Rohde (14), Colton Hess (10) and Carson Trivellini (10) also scored in double figures.

Santarelli’s only miss was his first shot. He hit two 3s in the first quarter, and Trivellini swished a 3 at the buzzer for a 22-6 lead.

“It felt good for sure,” Santarelli said. “My teammates were hitting me, and everyone was getting involved passing the ball, we started off really well. We’re coming out every game focused and playing like it could be our last game.”

South has a shot to join its 1983 team as the only sectional champions in program history.

Rohde had a steal and dunk along with a steal and a layup in the second half. The layup put South up 30 with 6:50 remaining and produced a running clock the rest of the game.

The Gators won their first regional in 21 years last season and lost a heartbreaking game to Marmion in the sectional semifinal. Now they are two wins away from going to the state tournament in Champaign.

“We were here last year, we wanted to get back here, and I think that experience … we wanted to win this game, not just be here,” LePage said. “AJ set the tone early. It was a fun one.”

Deklyn Rustad came off the bench with 13 points and three 3s to lead the Pretzels (21-13). Dedric Macon scored 11.

As if Freeport’s start was not tough enough, the Pretzels lost 6-1 Jaeden Marion with 4:51 in the first quarter with a sprained ankle.

“It was tough, but I knew that we had fighters and we could withstand it,” Freeport coach TJ Jackson said. “When Marion went down, that hurt us a lot. He averages seven rebounds a game, that was our equalizer.

“I knew what they had. When he went down, that was a real big blow.”

Crystal Lake South 80, Freeport 49
FREEPORT (49)
Macon 5 0-0 11, Morehead 0 0-0 0, Marion 0 0-0 0, Pierson 1 0-2 2, Sims 0 0-0 0, Seward 1 2-2 4, Baker 0 7-10 7, Rustad 5 0-0 13, Hartog 4 0-0 9, Sellers 1 1-1 3, Hall 0 0-0 0, Frazier 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 10-17 49.
CRYSTAL LAKE SOUTH (80)
Demirov 9 2-2 23, Santarelli 7 0-0 16, Rohde 6 2-2 14, Carlson 1 0-0 2, Hess 4 2-3 10, Trivellini 4 0-0 10, Regillio 1 1-5 3, Buelna 0 0-0 0, Prokos 1 0-0 2, Stroner 0 0-0 0, Orlick 0 0-0 0, Gountanis 0 0-0 0, Stowasser 0 0-0 0. Totals: 33 7-10 80.
Freeport 6 15 21 7 – 49
CL South 22 19 25 14 – 80
3-point goals: Freeport 5 (Rustad 3, Macon, Hartog), CL South 7 (Demirov 3, Santarelli 2, Trivellini 2). Total fouls: Freeport 12, CL South 14.