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Fans and players hoist Aurora Central Catholic's Anthony Andujar after his game-winning three-pointer to lift the Chargers over Wheaton Academy on Wednesday. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Aurora Central Catholic has had bigger victories but none as dramatic.
The Chargers rallied from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter and Anthony Andujar sank the game-winning three-pointer with 1.8 seconds left as ACC stunned top-seeded Wheaton Academy 41-37 on Wednesday at the Class 3A IMSA Regional semifinals.
The victory advanced the fourth-seeded Chargers (16-12) to Friday’s regional championship game, where they will take on No. 2 seed St. Francis, which beat Kaneland 43-32.
Andujar, a senior guard, played on the ACC team that won a sectional title two years ago, but said this victory means more.
“I think this is our biggest win,” Andujar said. “Words can’t describe how happy I am right now. I’m so excited.”
As were the ACC fans, who stormed the court after Andujar made his decisive shot from the top of the key, which gave the Chargers a 38-37 lead.
The game wasn’t over as Wheaton Academy was able to call timeout, but Warriors’ guard Collin Roy received a technical foul, giving the Chargers two free throws and the ball. Andujar split the free throws and then Zach Flint scored on a layup at the buzzer to cap the upset.
“We’re really disappointed,” Wheaton Academy coach Paul Ferguson said. “ACC made the plays when it counted. We had the game, we had the ball. We uncharacteristically turned the ball over in the fourth quarter and missed some shots.”
The Warriors (19-7) were heavy favorites after routing the Chargers twice during the regular season – 66-51 on Dec. 8 and 55-24 on Jan. 24.
But ACC scored the first eight points of this contest and gave the Warriors fits by playing a more deliberate style. Wheaton scored the next 11 points in holding the Chargers scoreless for a 6:11 stretch but was only up 13-12 at halftime.
“We were more patient on offense,” Andujar said. “We executed our offense. They were lighting it up on us during the regular season both games, but with our man-to-man defense [tonight] we wouldn’t let them get off that ‘3’ at all.”
Even so, the Warriors built a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter and were still up 35-27 following a Roy three-pointer with 5:02 left.
That’s when ACC senior forward Phil Schuetz went to work, scoring five straight points during a 7-0 run. Schuetz was a non-factor in the first half, picking up three fouls, but erupted to score all of his 16 points after intermission, including 12 in the fourth quarter.
“I just tried to keep playing hard and crashing the boards as much as possible,” Schuetz said. “I just kept waiting to get a look and then capitalized on it when I did.”
The 6-3 Schuetz made his first five shots of the second half as well as 6-of-8 free throws. He also helped defend against Wheaton’s 6-8 junior center Gordon Behr, who had 13 points, six rebounds and two blocks.
Behr, however, was in foul trouble throughout, getting two in the first quarter and drawing his fourth with :08 left in the third quarter. He fouled out with 3:14 to go and Wheaton up 35-32.
“He was a beast inside,” Schuetz said. “He wasn’t letting anything go inside. When he came out, that opened things up a little bit more. Then we were able to run our stuff better.”
That played a big factor in ACC coach Nathan Drye’s decision-making when he took a timeout with 21 seconds left to draw up the final play. The plan was to get it inside to Schuetz and if he was double-teamed, kick it back out to Andujar.
“We didn’t run that play at all until the end of the game and then we ran it and they weren’t ready for it,” Drye said. “I knew they were going to help double-team Phil with Anthony’s man. We thought Anthony would be coming off the screen and be open. He was open and thank God he stuck the shot.”
Ironically, Andujar had been scoreless before that, taking only four shots. But no one was surprised he made it.
“I knew that if we had the open look that he was going to make it,” Schuetz said. “Anthony is one of the most clutch kids I’ve ever met. He’s made huge shots before and I knew he’d make another one.”
“I felt real confident,” Andujar said. “There were a lot of guys on me but I knew I was going to knock it down. I had to knock that down.”
Shawn Soris had 11 points and six steals for ACC, which also got six points from Flint. The Chargers made 14 of 17 free throws, including a 4-for-4 effort from reserve Sean Anger.
Roy had nine points and Jake Cousins scored six for Wheaton, which lost its playoff opener for the second straight year.