NORMAL — Multiple times in the past two seasons, the Danville boys basketball team had put themselves in a position to win, only to see it slip away at the end.
Second-year coach Ted Houpt always talked about his pride in his team and how they just needed to keep fighting to get over that hump.
The Vikings have followed his instructions and in the past two weeks, they have reaped their rewards.
On Monday night, Danville claimed their first regional victory in three seasons with a 63-55 win over Normal West in a quarterfinal contest at the Normal Community Regional.
“I think we figured out that if you keep grinding, you keep working hard, you can get wins — but they’re not easy,’’ said Houpt, whose team have won four of its last five. “When you play hard, compete and come up short, you can feel proud about your effort. But, it’s a whole different level to grind it out and win those games.
“A couple of these wins down the stretch, like tonight, have been real grinds. Normal West is a great team to learn from, because regardless of who they have on the floor, they will fight and scrape.’’
The Wildcats, who had won the last two Class 4A regional titles, almost overcame a 17-point deficit in Monday’s contest.
Normal West (9-20) got within 54-51 with 1 minute and 31 seconds left, but Danville senior Denzel Smith scored seven of his game-high 21 in the final 1:20, including making five straight free throws to secure the Vikings second regional victory in the past eight seasons.
“We didn’t want our season to be over. We are not done fighting,’’ said Smith. “We’ve just came together as a family, as brothers. We weren’t going to allow any more bad losses. We just decided to play hard and win a regional championship.’’