Hilltoppers’ season comes to a close


When Jon Marotta’s two free throws with 2 minutes 59 second left gave Lincoln-Way West boys basketball a 47-34 lead over Joliet Catholic, the Class 3A Coal City Regional semifinal Wednesday night appeared over.

Only it wasn’t. Jalen Jackson was not finished, not by a long shot. The Hilltoppers’ junior guard helped send the game into overtime at 50-all with uncanny long-range shooting.

However, Jackson had no magic left for the extra period as Marotta and the Warriors (19-7), the No. 1 seed in the regional, survived to see another day, 54-53.

That day will come Friday night in the regional final against Morris, a winner over Plano in Wednesday’s second semifinal. JCA (16-14) exited having made history – the Hilltoppers’ first season over .500 since the 1982-83 season.

“Jackson is very, very, very good,” West coach Brian Flaherty said “He is really going to be something next year.”

With West up, 47-34, the East Suburban Catholic scoring leader swished a 3-pointer. Pete Ragen scored on a layup after a turnover, and after two Marotta free throws, JCA’s Harold Davis hit a 3-pointer to make it 49-42.

Lincoln-Way West missed a one-and-one, and Jackson scored on a circus shot off a drive down the lane. Another Warriors’ missed free throw later, Jackson hit from 25 feet to make it 49-47 with :29 left.

Anthony Marotta made one of two free throws for a 50-47 lead with 24 seconds to go, and Jackson stopped even farther out and nailed the tying 3 with 16 seconds remaining. JCA’s defense held, and it went to overtime.

“Jalen never ceases to amaze me,” Hilltoppers coach Joe Gura said. “He is one of the best in the area.”

“He is a great player,” Jon Marotta said. “We’re up 13 points with three minutes left, and he takes it over.”

Marotta, who scored 21 points while Jackson led everyone with 24, stepped up in overtime. After both sides misfired on a possession, West ran more than two minutes off the clock before Marotta buried a 10-footer from the baseline for a 52-50 lead in overtime.

“I love the midrange game,” the 6-foot-6 Marotta said. “I played the post in junior high because I was the tallest one. Ever since I got into high school, I’ve been working on branching out and developing my jumper.”

JCA then missed the front end of a one-and-one, West missed two free throws, the Hilltoppers missed a shot and Anthony Marotta hit one free throw with 13 seconds in OT left for a 53-50 lead. Jackson – with Cameron Gavin glued to him – missed a 3-pointer, and Marotta rebounded and was fouled.

He made one free throw with 4 seconds remaining, and Davis, who scored 10 points, hit a 3 at the buzzer to account for the final score.

“We missed tons of free throws, and then we sealed it with a couple we really needed,” said Flaherty, whose team trailed, 23-18, at half as Jackson beat the halftime buzzer with a bank shot from half-court. “I guess that’s experience.”

JCA led, 6-0, early and 15-9 after one quarter; and to that point, Anthony Marotta – who hit five 3-pointers in all and finished with 16 points – had all the Warriors’ production on three 3s. Jon Marotta missed six shots in the first quarter but was 7 of 12 the rest of the way.

“We came out slow,” Jon Marotta said. “It’s a good thing my brother hit some shots. I started feeding off the energy of them scoring. When they slipped someone in to the basket, that actually was my fault.”

However, if not for Jackson’s half-court basket to the end first half, JCA would have been limited to five points in the second quarter and then scored one in the third quarter.

“We were getting some slips to the basket in the first half,” Gura said. “We battled them, but we weren’t scoring in stretches even though we got some good looks.

“But they’re good, a real good defensive team. We’ve played them twice, and they got us twice. Sometimes, it’s just about how pretty good they are. I have nothing but praise for my guys.”

Marco Pettinato scored 10 points for West, all in the second half and overtime. As usual, he made big plays. Jon Marotta chipped in nine rebounds. Drake Fellows, Luke Mander and Jared Lenoir scored six for JCA, and Fellows blocked a handful of shots.

To view the story as published in The Herald-News (Joliet) including video, click here.

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