Created: Thursday, December 27, 2012 11:51 p.m. CDT
Updated: Thursday, December 27, 2012 11:53 p.m. CDT
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Thunder show composure under pressure

Woodstock North’s Shane Zieman (right) drives to the basket while being guarded by Marengo’s Adam Rogutich during the first quarter Thursday at Marengo High School. (Josh Peckler – jpeckler@shawmedia.com)

MARENGO – No matter how long or how effective his Woodstock North’s boys basketball team had protected its lead, Steve Ryan was anxious to see how much composure the Thunder could muster when pushed the hardest.

When Marengo started to test the Woodstock North’s youthful mettle in the fourth quarter Thursday night, the inexperience that had cost the Thunder earlier in the season was replaced by steady defensive play and a series of clutch late baskets, leading to a 49-45 victory in the 63rd annual E.C. Nichols tournament.

With the win, the Thunder (6-6) face Sycamore at 7:30 p.m. today with a spot in Saturday’s championship game at stake. Sycamore advanced with a 53-9 win over Harvard on Thursday.

And just like that, a team that struggled to find ways not to beat itself two weeks ago, showed the swagger of a collection of veterans, keeping its hopes of a tournament title alive and well.

“You saw kids tonight that acted like they’ve been here before,” Ryan said. “That’s what you want this time of year, especially in tournaments in these close games. The kids really handled themselves well.”

Woodstock North led throughout and despite being deadlocked at 31 entering the fourth quarter, never fell behind despite a fourth-quarter Marengo rally capped by a Adam Rogutich basket that drew the Indians to within 42-40 with 2:38 remaining.

But that’s when the Thunder showed just how much they have grown up in recent weeks. Nick Herscha scored six straight points to give Woodstock North just enough breathing room to allow the Thunder to hold on and remain unbeaten in the tournament.

In the end, though, it came down to patience and shot selection – two ingredients that had been lacking when Woodstock North started the season.

“Getting those late buckets in the end really pumped us up and got the team going,” said Herscha, who led the Thunder with 17 points. “We’re ecstatic and we’re so ready to play [today] and we’re going to come with everything we have – we’re going for the championship.”

Marengo (4-7) got as close as 48-45 with 23 seconds left after a Weston Shepard 3-point field goal. But the Indians – who got 13 points from Rogutich and Max Kunde – couldn’t capitalize when Woodstock North missed three of four free throws in the final 20 seconds.

“Getting a little loose with the ball toward the end of the game hurt us,” Marengo coach Dave Pettit said. “I think we just got sped up a little bit at times when we needed to be patient and work for a better shot.”

Wauconda 51, Woodstock 41: Jordan Turner scored 20 points but a second quarter when the Woodstock managed only two points allowed Wauconda to build a lead. The Blue Streaks (7-4) got as close as three points entering the fourth quarter, but struggled to finish – from the free-throw line, where Woodstock was 5-of-13.

“I thought we had good looks, but we didn’t make shots like we needed to,” Woodstock coach Al Baker said. “Layups and free throws and wide-open 3-point shots – we can’t do much better than that, but the good shots we were getting weren’t falling.”

Sycamore 53, Harvard 9: Zach Martin scored four points for Harvard in the a loss when Sycamore built a 31-4 halftime lead before holding the Hornets to five points in the second half.