Heart-stopping wins have become a habit for Fremd. Sort of.
The undefeated Vikings’ 36-35 overtime victory against Jacobs at Tuesday’s Hoffman Estates Supersectional was their second thriller in a row after Kyle Sliwa’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer knocked off Conant 43-42 in the Robert Morris Sectional final.
That win was a near repeat of Sliwa’s four-point play that defeated Conant in their second of three meetings. The Vikings also defeated Prospect by two in the Mid-Suburban League championship game, and Notre Dame by one in OT for the title at the Wheeling Hardwood Classic.
Those five victories have given the Vikings a narrative of a team that regularly squeaks out wins. In their other 26 games, however, they won by an average of 18.5 points, including margins of 33, 34, 45, 31, 32 and 41.
“There was a sequence there where we didn’t win by less than 12 points for about a month,” Fremd coach Bob Widlowski said.
Each of the Vikings’ five starters, four of whom are seniors who began playing together as fourth-graders in Fremd’s feeder system, shoots better than 50 percent from the field. The collective precision of their passing and shooting has led to team averages of .523 overall and .394 on 3-pointers. Brian Dompke’s .634 field-goal average leads the team. Sliwa, the team’s only double-figure scorer at 16.5 points per game, shoots .518 from the field and .435 (70-for-161) on 3s.
“We have five guys who can shoot,” Widlowski said, “and we’re going to make you guard all five positions.”
Still, few observers give Fremd much of a chance to cut down the nets this weekend in Peoria. The other three teams — Simeon, Bolingbrook and Friday’s semifinal opponent, Young — boast rosters filled with Division I prospects, while the Vikings have none.
“We have some very nice players and we play very well as a team,” Widlowski said. “But we don’t have a Division I basketball player, and that’s all some people look at.”
Other ammunition for naysayers includes the MSL’s lack of state success, with Schaumburg winning the league’s only title in 2001 and an 11-year gap between the Saxons’ 2006 appearance and this year’s Vikings. The winner of the sectionals that include the northwest suburbs and Rockford rarely finds success at state, either.
Then there is the matter of Fremd’s record. The last undefeated large-school state champion was King in 1993. Since then, only five other unbeatens have made it to state, with Joliet in 1994, Thornton in 1996 and 1997, Edwardsville in 2006 and Proviso East in 2012 falling short of the title.
While one way of thinking argues that the Vikings would have been better off with a loss along the way — such as 29-1 Bolingbrook’s stumble against Lincoln-Way East in the regular season’s penultimate game — Widlowski scoffs at that notion.
“I think it’s been good for us,” Widlowski said. “We’ve had a target on our back since Christmas. Teams come out with a definite determined effort to beat us. Our concentration level has had to be so high. So it makes me proud that we’re still undefeated.”
So how do the Vikings plan to buck the trends that point to a potentially disappointing two days downstate? By playing the same game that got them there.
“It’s a different situation to be 31-0 and a substantial underdog,” Widlowski said. “All we can do is take care of the basketball, play solid defense, share the ball, and try to rebound the best we can.”
IHSA state tournament
Friday’s semifinals (TV: CSN+)
3A, Fenwick (29-4) vs. Bloomington (26-4), 11 a.m.
3A, Morgan Park (24-6) vs. Springfield Lanphier (28-3), 12:45 p.m.
4A, Fremd (31-0) vs. Young (25-7), 5:30 p.m.
4A, Bolingbrook (29-1) vs. Simeon (29-3), 7:15 p.m.
3A third place, 11 a.m. (CSN)
3A championship, 12:45 p.m. (CSN)
4A third place, 5:30 p.m. (CSN+)
4A championship, 7:15 p.m. (CSN+)