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Boys Basketball: Lopez shot lifts Naperville Central to tourney title

Benet's Sean O'Marstruggles get around defense Naperville Central's Nick Czarnowski (45) Nicky Lopez. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media

Benet's Sean O'Mara struggles to get around the defense of Naperville Central's Nick Czarnowski (45) and Nicky Lopez. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 24, 2012 12:05AM

At Friday morning’s shoot around in anticipation of its Hoops For Healing Tournament title game appearance against Benet later in the evening, Naperville Central senior Nicky Lopez lived out a game-winning scenario.

“We ran a play and I made the shot and I was running around,” Lopez said.

As it turned out, it was just practice for the real celebration.

The Redhawks rallied from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter and a five-point deficit in overtime before Lopez drilled a three-pointer from the wing at the buzzer to give Central the tournament title and a 57-54 win.

Senior Mike Blaszczyk, who led the team with 22 points, drove into the lane with less than 10 seconds left. When the defense collapsed on him, he kicked it out to Lopez for the game-winner.

“The whole game we fed it to Blaze and they couldn’t cover him,” Lopez said. “He was outstanding today. He drove and I knew they were going to go at him hard and luckily he found me and luckily I made it.”

A three-pointer from Benet senior Pat McInerney gave the Redwings (3-1) a 41-32 lead early in the fourth quarter. But the Redhawks (3-1) responded with an 11-0 run to take a 43-41 lead with 3:39 left in regulation. Blaszczyk scored seven points in the run and junior Nick Czarnowski added the other four points. Blaszczyk’s driving lay-up with 15 seconds left wound up forcing overtime.

Benet started overtime with another three from McInerney and a lay-up from junior Sean O’Mara to open a 54-49 lead. But the Redwings never scored again. Ryan Antony’s three-pointer and a lay-in from Austin Pauga tied the game to set up Lopez’s heroics.

“We just told them to hover around the perimeter and when they draw, kick it to whoever is open,” Central coach Pete Kramer said of the final play. “We wanted to go at about eight seconds because we didn’t want to give them the ball back. The kids did a great job. They executed a lot of different sets down the stretch. This early in the season, for kids to do that, that’s great. I’m really excited for our kids.”

Pauga added 13 in the win for Central. McInerney led Benet with 22 points and 10 rebounds. O’Mara added 14 and Eddie Eshoo scored 11 off the bench.

The Redwings have yet to practice with their full team after getting guys like O’Mara, Jack Euritt and Jack Beneveti back just this week after their run to the Class 7A semifinals in football, so they are anxious to get into the gym and get some cohesiveness this weekend.

“I don’t want this to read like we’re making excuses, because we’re not, but we’re about 60 percent of where we want to be,” Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said. “To make it to the championship game was nice, but we’re certainly not just pleased to be here. We felt like we should have won the game. We didn’t make the plays that we needed to down the stretch.”

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