Palatine’s Tommy Elter is used to seeing those little openings.
Elter, who is the quarterback on the football team, slid through an opening after his team had run over a minute off the clock.
Elter then drove to the hoop for the eventual winning basket with 37.2 seconds left. The Pirates held off Rolling Meadows as Palatine topped the host Mustangs 54-52 in the MSL championship game.
It was Palatine’s first MSL championship since 1993.
“It has been a long time,” Palatine coach Eric Millstone said. “It’s been fun. We have a really good group of kids. And you want to see good kids get good things. It is fun to see their reaction and it’s fun to see them experience something that not a lot teams have experienced.”
Elter gave Millstone and his teammates the finishing touch they needed.
“It was the moment,” said Elter, who finished with 10 points. “It was a window. I thought I was the last guy on the court that would have gone at the basket. We have four playmakers surrounding me. It is fun to be around.”
It was a great finish to an exciting game that featured 11 ties in the second half. Palatine (23-6) had its biggest lead at 3 points while Meadows (25-6) never led by more than 2 points.
“You win with seniors and talented juniors,” Millstone said. “That’s what we have. We have some kids who have been through the wringer and had a decent season last year until we got derailed the last couple weeks. They came into the season with some unfinished business and a singular focus.”
The game also was a terrific showdown between MSL East player of the year Cameron Christie of Rolling Meadows and MSL West player of the year Connor May of Palatine.
The duo matched each other nearly basket for basket in the third quarter. Christie scored 10 of his 26 points in the period while May had 11 of his 21 points including a pair of putbacks.
“We went into the game knowing that Cam was going to get his,” May said. “I got mine. But it is really a team game. I couldn’t have got mine without my teammates. We played really hard and just go into every possession and just play your hardest.”
Millstone said May’s play has been great all season.
“Connor May showed you why he is the (MSL) West player of the year,” Millstone said. “The best players step up when the lights are the brightest. And Connor really asserted himself. We have been riding him all year.”
Palatine, which had not played in the MSL championship since 1996, opened the game like they had been playing it in every year.
The Pirates came out sizzling. They knocked down seven of their first 12 field goal attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers by Sam Millstone as Palatine roared out to a 16-5 lead.
Rolling Meadows came out tight, despite being a veteran participant in the title game. The Mustangs had trouble navigating the Pirates’ 2-3 zone and shot just 1-of-11 to begin the game.
Meadows finally found its mark late in the first quarter. Trailing 16-2, the Mustangs ran off eight consecutive points on their way to a 16-2 run to tie the game at 18-18.
From there it was tight the rest of the way.
“We couldn’t take care of the ball ” said Rolling Meadows coach Kevin Katovich, whose team had 12 turnovers, including three in the final three minutes of the game.
“We couldn’t rebound. They were just more aggressive than us offensively and defensively. It was uncharacteristic for us. We don’t have much time to feel sorry for ourselves. We got to get ready for the regionals next week and try to clean things up in a hurry.”
Tsvet Sotirov has 13 points for Rolling Meadows, which is the third seed in the New Trier sectional. The Mustangs will host Schaumburg on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Tyler Swierczek had 11 points and Sam Millstone had 10 points for Palatine, which is the third seed in the Barrington sectional. They will host Grant next Wednesday at 6 p.m.