Boys basketball: Joliet Catholic picks up ‘big win’ over Lincoln-Way West

Drew Wills leads five Hilltoppers in double digits with 16 points

Joliet Catholic’s Drew Wills drives to the basket against Lincoln-Way West on Saturday, Feb. 10th 2024 in Joliet.

JOLIET – Joliet Catholic Academy and Lincoln-Way West were coming off of hard-fought Friday night conference games when they met Saturday afternoon in a nonconference contest.

JCA’s balance and transition game proved to be the difference, as five Hilltoppers placed in double digits in the scoring column en route to a 68-67 victory.

After dropping a 74-66 decision to Carmel on Friday night, the Hilltoppers (9-18) opened strong, withstood a third-quarter Lincoln-Way West rally and hit clutch free throws down the stretch to come away with the win.

Drew Wills led JCA with 16 points and six rebounds, while James Pilapil scored 15 points, JJ Sterrett had 14, Connor Louthan came off the bench to score 12, and Jayden Armstrong added 10.

“This was as big win for us,” Wills said. “We had all types of energy in the locker room before the game, and that found its way onto the court. We like to spread the ball around. The more players we get in double figures, the more points we have as a team, and everyone has their strengths.

“Defense is our pride and passion, and we played hard on the defensive end. That turned into us getting transition points.”

Lincoln-Way West (15-14) grabbed a 6-2 lead at the start, but JCA answered with a 12-2 run to go ahead 14-8. The Hilltoppers finished the quarter with a 20-17 lead, as Wills had six points, Pilapil five and Sterrett four.

Joliet Catholic’s James Pilapil looks for a play against Lincoln-Way West on Saturday, Feb. 10th 2024 in Joliet.

The Hilltoppers held the lead the entire second quarter, moving out to a 28-21 advantage before the Warriors ended the quarter on a 9-3 run that cut the score to 31-30 at halftime.

“This was a much-needed win for us,” JCA coach Adam DeGroot said. “We got off to a nice start with 20 points in the first quarter and we were able to generate points in transition.

“This was our third game in three days, and I am very pleased with how our guys responded. This was a fun high school game. It was back and forth, and we needed to win this for some momentum with the postseason coming up.”

Lincoln-Way West caught fire in the third quarter, however, and was able to take a 43-36 lead behind eight points from Eli Bach (14 points) and five from Max Gabriel (team-high 17 points). JCA bounced back and finished the quarter on a 10-2 run that gave it a 48-45 lead entering the fourth.

JCA moved out to a 54-47 lead midway through the fourth, but West cut it to 58-55 with 2:16 to play on a basket by Daniel Reniguntala off an assist from Bach. JCA got a free throw from Sterrett and two from Pilapil to take a 61-55 lead. Reniguntala scored again to cut it to 61-57 with 1:27 remaining. After a free throw by Wills, Gabriel scored to cut it to 62-59. Sterrett made a free throw with 1:04 left, and West’s Wyatt Carlson (17 points) hit a 3-pointer to cut it to 63-62 with :51 to play. JCA went 5 of 6 from the free-throw line in the final 35 seconds to seal the win.

Lincoln-Way West’s Wyatt Carlson makes a move against Joliet Catholic on Saturday, Feb. 10th 2024 in Joliet.

“We haven’t played in a lot of games that were close at the end,” DeGroot said. “Our guys did a good job of finishing it off and we hit some big free throws.”

Lincoln-Way West coach Tanner Mitchell was not as pleased as DeGroot.

“We did not play well,” he said. “I was nervous about that coming in. We just had a tough, physical, emotional conference win over Stagg on the road Friday night. I was a little worried about a letdown after a big win like that.

“It looked like we were getting things going in the third quarter, but give credit to JCA. They didn’t let us put them away. They did a good job of pushing the ball in transition, and we missed a lot of easy layups. It’s kind of demoralizing when you work the ball for a good shot, and it doesn’t go in and the other team is running the other way with the ball.”