Maple Leafs miss opportunities

Chris Steele
Noah Aper lays in a shot during the third quarter of the Peoria Notre Dame 
Regional Semifinal game against Peoria Richwoods. The Knights held on for a 69-67 victory on March 1.

Geneseo’s Noah Aper made Peoria Richwoods pay for underestimating him.

Aper made a pair of 3-pointers to keep Geneseo’s regional hopes alive, but mounting missed opportunities haunted the Maple Leafs in the Class 3A Peoria Notre Dame Regional Semifinal on March 1.

Peoria Richwoods held off a Geneseo fourth-quarter comeback to earn a 69-67 victory and advance to the Class 3A PND Regional championship.

The Knights’ Jaydion Davis made a pair of free throws with 4.2 seconds remaining to take a two-point lead.

Geneseo’s Isaiah Rivera rushed the ball up the floor and split a pair of defenders with a brilliant pass to find Aper underneath the basket.

However, Aper’s quick shot to beat the clock and tie the game was too strong as time expired.

“It’s been a special season,” Geneseo coach Brad Storm said. “A record of 12-12 doesn’t sound that special, but we had a group of guys who never quit.”

Ultimately, glaring holes kept Geneseo from running away with the game in the fourth quarter.

Geneseo committed three fouls on shots that allowed the Knights to convert three-point plays in the fourth, and the Maple Leafs missed six free throws in the final four minutes.

Geneseo was able to play over a lot of mistakes by making 3-pointers in the fourth.

Aper made a 3-pointer to close Richwoods’ lead to 46-44 less than a minute into the final period, and Rivera tied the game at 46 with a jumper from the lane on the next possession.

After Richwoods regained the lead, Jacob Pauley canned a 3-pointer to tie the game at 50.

The Knights’ Dallas Bryson seemed to put the final nail in Geneseo’s season with a 3-pointer to give Richwoods a 59-53 lead with 2:52 left.

Geneseo kept chipping away, and Aper drained a 3-pointer to close the score to 61-58 with 1:56 left.

“Everyone waits patiently for their name to be called,” Aper said. “When it’s their moment they use every chance they get to make that moment the best.”

Pauley made another big 3-pointer to cut the lead to 66-63 with 1:08 remaining.

Rivera finished with a game-high 25 points, and Pauley scored 22 points.

Aper scored 13 points, and Cayson Frerichs made 1-of-2 from the free-throw line.

The Maple Leaf’s Matthew Ganson and Keaton Rice each scored three points.

The Leafs were trying to play over a lot of factors in the regional semifinal game.

It was an uphill battle for Geneseo with Kyle Wise and Jarron Nordstrom out due to injury, and Anthony Bravata out due to a team rules violation.

Geneseo started the game sluggish and fell behind 16-9 by the end of the first quarter.

“I never really felt like we were out of it,” Storm said. “Even in the first quarter when things were going bad.”

After falling behind 31-19 in the second quarter, Pauley loosened up the Maple Leafs with a 3-pointer and a dunk on back-to-back possessions to cap a Leafs run that closed the gap to 32-26.

“All of a sudden we felt like the aggressors,” Storm said. “You have to be the aggressors in those situations. I think once we got to that point we saw we have to be aggressive and we can do some things and it was a battle the rest of the way.”

Peoria Richwoods fell in the regional championship against Sterling 63-55 on March 3.