Boys basketball: Lincoln-Way West falls to Rich Township in Class 4A regional semifinal

Senior Eli Bach leads Warriors with 11 points in 75-40 loss

Lincoln-Way West’s Max Gabriel draws the shooting foul against Rich Township in the Class 4A Lincoln-Way West Regional semifinal on Wednesday, Feb. 21st 2024 in New Lenox.

NEW LENOX – Nearly everything was going to have to go right if Lincoln-Way West hoped to upset Rich Township in the Class 4A Lincoln-Way West Regional.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, not a lot went right Wednesday night.

Rich Township, the No. 4 seed in the Rich Township Sectional, came away with a 75-40 win over 13th-seeded Lincoln-Way West to advance and play the Joliet West-Sandburg winner in Friday night’s regional championship game.

The Raptors (23-7) jumped out to a 9-0 lead in the first two minutes, but Lincoln-Way West (16-6) answered with an 8-2 run to pull to within 11-8. The Warriors continued to keep it close, trailing 18-14 as the seconds wound down in the first quarter. Just before the buzzer, however, Rich Township’s Samar Bures (game-high 16 points) hit a long 3-pointer to give his team a 21-14 lead entering the second quarter.

“They jumped on us early,” Lincoln-Way West coach Tanner Mitchell said. “We were able to battle there in the first quarter and got it down to four points. Then they hit that 30-footer at the end of the quarter and that just killed any momentum for us.”

Rich Township’s defense took over in the second quarter, limiting West to one field goal and four free throws while outscoring the Warriors 22-6 to take a 43-20 halftime lead. While Bures was the offensive catalyst for the Raptors in the first quarter with 10 points, teammate Jayden Williams took charge in the second, collecting eight of his 12 points in the second.

Lincoln-Way West’s Jacob Bereza works the ball midcourt against Rich Township in the Class 4A Lincoln-Way West Regional semifinal on Wednesday, Feb. 21st 2024 in New Lenox.

“This was a tough matchup for us,” Mitchell said. “They were bigger, faster and stronger than us at every position. They had relentless pressure on the ball and sped us up. We also shot poorly from 3-point range, but that was because they sped us up and got us out of our comfort zone. They closed on the ball so quickly that our shots had to go up sooner and we were out of rhythm.”

The second half started much like the first, with Rich Township going on a 12-2 run to start the third quarter and take a 53-22 lead as 6-foot-7 Victor Brown, scoreless in the first half, scored seven points, including a powerful slam dunk.

Senior Eli Bach, who led West with 11 points, picked up his fifth foul with 3:03 to play in the third quarter.

Rich Township led 66-33 entering the fourth, invoking the running clock for the fourth quarter, in which both teams substituted liberally.

Lincoln-Way West’s Wyatt Carlson lays in a shot against Rich Township in the Class 4A Lincoln-Way West Regional semifinal on Wednesday, Feb. 21st 2024 in New Lenox.

“I don’t want our team to hang their hats on this loss,” Mitchell said. “This team accomplished a lot this year. They shared the conference title for the first time in school history and had a winning regular season for the first time in a long time. We had some real good wins down the stretch. We beat Bradley-Bourbonnais, Andrew, Stagg, Lincoln-Way Central twice and Lemont, which is an 18-19 win team. These guys have a lot to be proud of.”

Bach finished his season with 609 points. Fellow senior Jacob Bereza scored 10 points Wednesday, and Wyatt Carlson added five. Rich Township placed three players in double digits – Bures with 16, Jameson Coulter with 13 and Williams with 12.

“I am really proud to be part of this program,” Bach said. “I just loved being on the floor with my teammates. One thing about us is that we play hard, no matter what. There might have been some games when we were outmatched, like this one against a team that could go pretty far. But, we always knew we were going to play hard and be a team that no one wanted to play.

“The program is going in the right direction, on all levels, from the varsity down to the freshman B team.”