ALGONQUIN – The last time Crystal Lake Central faced Crystal Lake South, in the Jacobs Holiday Classic championship, Tigers coach Rich Czeslawski’s pregame motivational ploy was to bust up the second-place trophy from the previous year with a baseball bat.
On Wednesday night, sensing his team was a little tight with a three-point halftime lead, Czeslawski chose humor.
“I told them a joke from ‘Pulp Fiction,’ the one Uma Thurman’s character tells,” Czeslawski said.
The lightened mood, along with some strong defense, helped Central run away in the second half. The top-seeded Tigers shot 63.6 percent from the field in the second half and defeated the No. 5 Gators, 69-49, in their IHSA Class 4A Jacobs Regional semifinal at the Eagles’ Nest.
“We were real tight,” Czeslawski said. “Nobody looked scared, but we looked nervous. It was fun to see that in the third quarter.”
Central (24-3) meets No. 3 Jacobs (18-14) in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. championship game. The Golden Eagles beat Dundee-Crown, 50-45, in the second semifinal Wednesday.
South (14-15) pulled within 24-23 to start the third quarter, but the Tigers ran off 12 unanswered points to grab control. They were running, lobbing alley-oop passes for layups, getting tip-ins and center Kyle Fleck had a pair of 3-pointers, along with a pair of dunks in the second half.
“It was energy and defense,” said Fleck, who finished with 18 points. “It all started when we really stuck them on defense. Once we do that, it feels like it takes the cap off the rim and we start knocking down shots.”
The win was Central’s seventh in the Eagles’ Nest this season. Guard Corban Murphy led all players with 22 points and forward David Panicko grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.
“Czes was on the bench in the second half and said, ‘That must have been a good joke,’ ” Murphy said of the halftime talk. “In the third quarter we were knocking down shots and it took off from there.”
Gators senior guard Nick Geske went down firing, leading his team with 20 points and two 3s in the fourth quarter. South kept it tight through the first half with tough defense and rebounding, but could not slow Central down after the break.
“They did what they do and started playing free and loose,” Gators coach Matt LePage said. “They got confident and made that run, and that was the deciding factor. That group is pretty special. They’re really good at getting up and down the floor. It’s pretty difficult to stop them.”