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Nathan Kurtz was ready to make his move.
Two early fouls caused the junior Luther North forward to watch most of the first half of the host Wildcats’ 1A regional semifinal against St. Gregory.
His chance arrived and he responded.
Kurtz drilled a three-pointer at the first quarter buzzer, the prelude of bigger things to come, as he scored 15 of his team-high 18 points in the second half in leading the Wildcats over the Greyhounds 53-45.
The victory propels the Wildcats into the regional championship against Hope Academy Friday for a right to advance to the 1A Mooseheart sectional.
It was an historic and bittersweet end for St. Gregory, playing the final varsity basketball game in school history. The school is closing at the end of the year. Fadi Ibrahim, a native of Iraq who has been living in Chicago for just two years, scored a game-high 21 points for the Greyhounds (21-8).
Kurtz’s three-pointer from the left baseline put the Wildcats up 25-24 at the break. “My teammates did a great job of finding me, and hitting that shot there gave me a lot of confidence going into the second half,” he said.
Kurtz caught fire, scoring 15 of his team’s next 22 points. He scored his team’s first seven points of the third quarter. He converted another three-pointer. He ended the quarter with a breakaway layup that punctuated a 7-0 quarter closing burst that put the Wildcats up 41-32 to start the fourth quarter.
“We had to extend our defense in that quarter, and when you do that, you’re vulnerable to open shots, and they did a good job of making them,” St. Gregory coach Matt Rollins said.
Kurtz remained on fire, opening the fourth quarter with another three-pointer for his team’s largest lead at 44-34. Ibrahim ignited the Greyhounds’ final burst, hitting a three-pointer that sparked a 7-0 run as St. Gregory pulled within three-points. “We had a great team play the whole year,” Ibrahim said, “of guys playing hard and together and doing it for the team.”
Luther North converted 9-of-10 free throws down the stretch to ice the victory. Freshman forward Steven Zanders added 10 points and sophomore guard Chris Jenkins contributed nine points for the Wildcats.
Sophomore Antonio Amoah scored 10 points for St. Gregory. Edema Odiase contributed eight points. “We had a great season, going undefeated in our conference [Metro Prep],” Rollins said. “But this is tough.”