CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake South's Tyler Haskin hustled back on defense during a fast-break opportunity for Rockford Jefferson and met Jy'aire Robinson at the basket, preventing Robinson from throwing down a two-handed slam in the final minute of the fourth quarter Tuesday.
Haskin played the entire second half in foul trouble, but the Gators senior didn't let that stop his natural aggressiveness as South mounted a second-half comeback. Haskin stopped Robinson from the easy basket, but fouled out in the process before receiving an ovation from the crowd.
"I said I'm going for it. There's no looking back," said Haskin. "Coach [Matt LePage] wrote on the board 'Empty tanks,' so we emptied our tank."
Haskin and the No. 7 Gators nearly pulled off an upset against top-seeded Jefferson, falling to the J-Hawks, 52-50, in a Class 4A Crystal Lake South Regional semifinal. The J-Hawks (24-6) will meet the winner of Wednesday's semifinal between McHenry and Crystal Lake Central in Friday's championship at 7 p.m.
The J-Hawks stormed out to a 12-0 lead in the game's opening 1:58, forcing a quick timeout by South. LePage said Jefferson had a lot of success throughout the regular season by putting up big numbers early on opposing defenses, then running away.
The Gators had other ideas.
"It was incredible," LePage said. "Watching Jefferson's tape the last 24 hours, they have an ability to run away from you and get away from some people. Early on, it looked like they might do that, but our guys had a different idea."
The Gators switched defenses, going from a man-to-man to zone, and held Jefferson to 13 points over the final 14:02 of the half. On the other end, South's offense was extremely efficient and shot 9 of 20 from the field in the first half.
South trailed, 25-20, at halftime.
"We changed defenses, and I think it gave us some fresh legs and disrupted them," senior Kyle Leva said. "We just kept building and building."
The Gators took their first lead of the game after an 8-0 run to start the second half. Junior Matt Reall hit a 3, followed by an inside basket from Haskin. Haskin then stepped back and made a 3 with 5:24 left in the third quarter, giving South a 28-25 lead.
"We wanted to stay," Haskin said. "Unfortunately, we couldn't. It was a whole effort. Coach said coming in, 'People are going to give you a one percent chance to win, so come in and ruin their night.'
"We tried our best to be that team."
Haskin led the Gators (12-16) with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting and five rebounds. Reall tossed in 13 points on the strength of three 3-pointers, and Leva tallied 11 points and five rebounds.
Reall hit a 3-pointer at the final buzzer.
Haskin was playing in his fifth game back after suffering a broken finger on his right hand. He wasn't sure if he'd be able to return this season when the injury happened.
"He played awesome; it was probably his best game since getting back," LePage said. "I'm really happy he got a chance to play like that. A couple of weeks ago, it didn't look like he was going to play. I'm really proud for him and Leva. Those are seniors that didn't want to go home. I think we fed off that energy."
J-Hawks coach Todd Brannan said he expected the Gators to respond to Jefferson's fast start.
"I think we hit some perimeter shots early, which always helps," Brannan said. "Then I think we settled too much on the perimeter instead of getting to the rim. We've always said this. They've got seniors on their home court; they're not gonna want to go home, and it's going to be tough."
Robinson led the J-Hawks with 18 points and eight rebounds. Quillin Dixon had 13 points, and MyQuion Garrett had nine points and six rebounds.
Ben Geske had six points and three assists for the Gators. Tyler Miller dished out four assists.
Leva said he is excited to follow his teammates next year.
"They're going to come back, be really aggressive and bug the [heck] out of people on defense," Leva said of South's returning players. "I'm really looking forward to seeing what some of these juniors do in the offseason, take that next step forward and be really good players at this level."
STAR OF THE GAME
Tyler Haskin, Crystal Lake South, sr., F
The 6-foot-4 forward played the entire second half with three fouls and led all scorers with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting in his final high school game.
12: Jefferson went on a 12-0 run in the game's first 1:58.
AND ANOTHER THING ...
The Gators graduate six seniors: Jack Murphy, Kyle Leva, Jon Holloway, Blake Kuffel, Nikolas Jimenez and Haskin.
Rockford Jefferson 52, Crystal Lake South 50
Crystal Lake South 12 8 13 17 – 50
Jefferson 16 9 11 16 – 52
CRYSTAL LAKE SOUTH (50): Haskin 7 4-5 19, Reall 5 0-0 13, Leva 5 1-1 11, Geske 2 2-4 6, Murphy 0 1-2 1. Totals: 19 8-12 50.
JEFFERSON (52): Ford 2 0-2 4, Dixon 3 5-6 13, Garrett 1 6-7 9, Dunner 2 0-2 5, Robinson 7 2-6 18, Graham 1 1-2 3. Totals: 16 14-25 52.
3-point goals: Crystal Lake South 4 (Reall 3, Haskin), Jefferson 6 (Dixon 2, Robinson 2, Garrett, Dunner). Total fouls: Crystal Lake South 19, Jefferson 15. Fouled out: Haskin (CLS).