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East Aurora's Fred Reynolds dribbles past South Elgin's Jacob Hicks on Friday. | Sean King~For Sun-Times Media
East Aurora’s 12-game losing streak came to an end Friday night when the Tomcats held on for a 72-68 victory over South Elgin.
The host Storm was hoping senior night would serve as a springboard to avenging an earlier loss to East and to making the Tomcats share the cellar of the Upstate Eight Conference’s Valley Division.
But that wasn’t the case as Jonathan Villezcas hit the second of two free throws to establish a four-point cushion with 15.3 seconds remaining. South Elgin’s Ryne Lundy missed a hook shot and the Tomcats (4-21, 2-10) not only rebounded the ball, but fed it upcourt in order to allow the final seconds to tick off.
“Before the game we talked about the need to keep our composure figuring (South Elgin) would play with a lot of energy from senior night,” East coach Wendell Jeffries said. “Even though we beat them by 13, we expected a battle to the end and we got one.”
South Elgin (5-21, 0-12) got the first two baskets and opened up a couple 11-point leads, including 17-6 before the opening quarter ended with the Storm up 19-15. The margin remained the same at halftime (38-34), but the Tomcats gained their first lead two minutes into the third on a Kejuan Davis three-pointer (42-40), and the visitors owned a 55-53 lead entering the final frame.
The hosts rallied and even led by a 66-64 tally with 2:19 to play, but that’s when East received heroic efforts from a number of folks. DeJon Talbert drained a right corner trey, and then Davis tipped a loose ball ahead to Fred Reynolds for a fastbreak bucket that proved pivotal.
“That was a pressure play and even though I fumbled it a little, there was no way I couldn’t score,” Reynolds said.
Added Jeffries: “Davis hit some big shots early for us and we often tell him that down the stretch he has to do more than score. That tip pass was a good example. With Rey (Velazquez) out, DeJon was playing the point for the first time and he had only one turnover,13 points, five assists and four steals.”
The Tomcats’ other standout was Villezcas, who finished with a game-high double-double of 23 points and 10 rebounds. The East big man also had six blocks including a late one after South Elgin inbounded the ball of his back.
“I felt that and I knew I had to stop that shot,” Villezcas said. “My teammates did a good job of finding me on offense, plus I’ve gained a lot more confidence from practice. I especially like getting rebounds since it’s part of my role as the biggest guy.”
While Storm coach Chaz Taft was disappointed with his team’s ninth straight loss, he found a bright spot in the play of a trio of freshmen in Justin Howard, Matt Smith and Jake Amrhein.
“Our post play wasn’t as good as we would need, and I thought East out-toughed us,” Taft said. “Before the game I asked our guys if they were gonna be ballplayers or just players coming out to play ball because there’s a big difference,
“The three young guys were calm, patient and handled (East’s) pressure well. They made huge strides.”
Smith ended up with a team-best 21 points, while Amrhein had 11. Matt McClure pitched in with 16 for the Storm.