By PAUL GOTHAM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It was a matter of instincts.
Logan Blankenberg netted seven of his 16 points in the final four minutes, and the No. 2-seed Wayne Eagles held off the sixth-seeded Monroe Redjackets, 53-49 to advance to the Class A2 finals.
Clinging to a two-point lead and playing with four fouls, Blankenberg scored a pair of baskets in the lane to give the Eagles a six-point cushion.
After leading by as many as nine points in the second half, Blankenberg’s first bucket in the paint gave Wayne a two-possession lead. The sophomore guard converted a rebound and putback next time down the floor for a 44-38 advantage with just over three minutes remaining in the semifinal match.
“Those are what I call instinct plays,” Wayne coach Bill Thomson said. “He was in the right place in the right time because he wasn’t giving up on the play.”
But Blankenberg saved his best for when the Eagles needed it most.
Coming out of a timeout leading by one, he curled off a screen at the free throw line, caught the ball in the paint and finished at the rim with contact. The three-point play gave Wayne a 47-43 advantage with 2:12 left on the clock.
“He’s a scorer,” Thomson added. “He’s deceivingly stronger than he looks inside. He’s 6-foot-3 and lanky, but he can still hold his own.”
As it was the case throughout the second half, the Redjackets, though, did not go away. Twice in the remaining two minutes Monroe made it a one-possession game. On each occasion, Wayne responded at the free throw line.
“They’re so aggressive,” Thomson said of Monroe. “These kids have been playing together forever. We’re young, but we don’t always play young. We’ve played in very intense AAU games, but nothing’s like this.”
Monroe’s Rayshawn Boswell drove the lane and put up a floater that wedged between the rim and backboard. Possession went to Wayne, but the Redjackets forced a turnover, and Boswell nailed a three from the top of the key next time down the floor to make it a 47-46 game with 1:22 remaining.
After a stop on the defensive end, Monroe had a chance to take the lead but couldn’t convert. Forced to foul, Wayne’s Nick Carmichael connected twice from the free throw line.
Braeden Zenelovic made it a five-point game with two more charity tosses, but Monroe’s Chris Gibson Jr. was fouled in the act and finished the shot while falling to the floor. Gibson’s free throw made it a two-point game with 7.5 to go.
Zenelovic put the contest on ice with two more from the line.
“The bottom line is they have trusted each other,” Thomson said. “They’ve run their stuff so many times that pretty much they know what they’re doing.”
Zenelovic finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. Carmichael added eight points and five rebounds.
Boswell and Gibson scored 15 apiece for Monroe (11-12)
Wayne (19-3) moves on to play Wilson-Magnet in the A2 finals on Saturday. The eighth-seeded Wildcats beat No. 2-seed Batavia earlier in the night, 57-55.