Sectional title proves elusive for Elgin’s accomplished squadElgin's Dennis Moore is consoled by former teammate Jordan Dean after losing to Rockford Auburn 56-67 in the championship game of the Dundee-Crown Class 4A Sectional on Friday. | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 10, 2012 2:00AM
A journey that for some Elgin players began as far back as preschool came to an end Friday night in Carpentersville.
Tight-knit doesn’t begin to describe the Maroons, who grew up together on the basketball court and during the past two years helped write a compelling new chapter in their school’s proud basketball tradition.
Seven players took the court for Elgin in the Dundee-Crown Class 4A Sectional championship game. Four were three-year varsity members, six were seniors and all seven made up the nucleus of a team that went mostly unchanged as the Maroons won back-to-back Upstate Eight River titles and back-to-back regional championships the past two seasons.
All that experience couldn’t quite get Elgin over the hump against Rockford Auburn, which claimed its second straight sectional title with a 67-56 victory in front of a packed house. With the defeat the Maroons finish the season with a 26-4 record, marking the program’s highest win total since 1998.
“We got a lot of trophies this year and last year,” Elgin senior Kory Brown said. “We did it big and we did it to the best of our ability. When we go back to the school we’re going to see quite a few trophies hanging up in there. I just wish we had at least one more.”
Elgin coach Mike Sitter said leading up to the sectional final his team needed to play its best game of the year to beat Rockford Auburn (30-2), but the Maroons couldn’t muster such an effort for four quarters. In the second half Elgin matched the Knights point for point, but it was a poorly played first half that ultimately cost the Maroons their season.
Rockford Auburn went into halftime with a 28-17 lead after Elgin missed all six three-point attempts, struggled to a 4-for-20 shooting mark from the field and committed eight turnovers in the first 16 minutes. The Maroons turned the tide after the break and pulled within 35-32 entering the fourth quarter, but they could come no closer as their comeback attempt stalled down the stretch.
“We got in a hole and it was tough to come out,” Elgin senior Dennis Moore said. “We weren’t shooting the best early on. If we shot a little better and came out a little harder, who knows what could have happened.”
The matchup of two of the best players in the state didn’t disappoint as Brown and Rockford Auburn senior Fred Van Vleet went toe to toe. Brown posted another stellar stat line with 20 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks despite battling serious foul trouble.The Wichita State-bound Van Vleet was even better with 32 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter.
“I left my heart and soul out there,” Brown said. “I did what I could do to try and get this team the W. (Rockford Auburn) just played a hell of a game.”
Added Van Vleet: “If it was easy, everybody would be two-time sectional champs. This is no easy feat and (Elgin) was not going to just give it to us. We had to go out there and take it.”
Junior guard Arie Williams finished with 16 points for the Maroons, and he’ll be the only player returning to the main rotation next season for an Elgin team that will have an entirely different look than the one it had the past three yeras.
Although the Maroons ultimately fell short of their goal of winning a sectional championship, the players did string together a series of memories that will last a lifetime while helping put Elgin basketball back in the spotlight.
“I’ve probably never enjoyed a basketball team as much as I enjoyed this team,” Elgin coach Mike Sitter said. “These guys have great personalities and they’re magnetic kids. (Assistant coach) Jeff (Howard) and I will go out after a game to get a piece of pizza, and there’s 15 kids sitting there having pizza at Taylor Street. How many teams do that? I’ve never had a team that hangs out with each other this much off the court, so I just feel absolutely terrible.
“But if they work as hard the rest of their lives in college and with their families as they do at basketball, every one of them is going to be really successful.”