By THE HERALD-WHIG STAFF
WARSAW, Ill. -- Each time Ethan Neally would tell Illini West boys basketball coach Jon Hughs his free-throw total, Hughs jokingly would question him.
"We track free throws in practice," Hughs said. "I've been giving him grief all year. He'll come up and say he made 8 of 10 and I'd tell him he had to be lying to me."
Wednesday night, Neally's free-throw shooting was no joke.
The senior forward made 4 of 6 free throws in the fourth quarter to help the third-seeded Chargers earn a 44-41 victory over second-seeded Pittsfield in the semifinals of the Class 2A West Hancock Regional.
"Those were big free throws," Hughs said. "Those were big from a senior."
They were even bigger from a player who had struggled at the line. At one point this season, Neally had made just 8 of 27 free throws.
When it mattered most, though, he didn't act like a sub-par shooter.
"He shot them with confidence," Hughs said.
The hope is that carries over to Friday's regional championship in which the Chargers will face top-seeded West Hancock on its own court.
"We're going to have to play well," Hughs said.
Illini West will need to be as fundamentally sound as it was against Pittsfield.
"I thought we played as hard and as disciplined as we have all year," Hughs said.
That was necessary considering Pittsfield refused to back down. The Saukees trailed by as many as 10 points in the second half before whittling the deficit to just one in the fourth quarter.
However, Brody Gronewold followed Neally's lead and made a pair of free throws in the final minute.
"He makes my job a little easier," Hughs said of Gronewold. "He makes me look a little smarter."
Gronewold finished with 17 points
"I thought we closed it well," Hughs said. "We moved the ball against their pressure.
"I thought we did a nice job of closing it out."