VALPARAISO | It's not easy losing 19.4 points per game.
OK, that's not the most insightful thing I've ever said, but you get the idea.
Chris Palombizio's season-ending foot injury not only cost Chesterton over one-third of its offense, the trickle-down effect on rebounding, ball handling and interior defense made the impact significantly greater.
Less than two weeks before the postseason, the Trojans were left with nearly zero margin for error to be successful. The mission to win a sectional became much more difficult, yet not impossible.
"We lost a lot of scoring with Chris, but we knew we were only down one person," Andrew Ralph said after Wednesday's 45-37 grinder over Valparaiso. "Collectively, we had to step it up. We had to move the ball better, set better screens, play defense with the same principles, get stops and limit second opportunities."
It might not sound flashy, but it doesn't have to be aesthetically pleasing to be effective. Longer possessions, fewer shots and in-your-shirt defense may not have mass appeal, but winning does. If that's what it takes at this point, then that's what Chesterton's going to do, to heck with style marks.
"It all comes down to defense this time of year," Cole Teal said. "Defense wins championships. Andrew deserves so much credit. He sets the tone defensively. Obviously, Chris drew a lot of attention (on offense) and I'm getting more now, but I've said it before, if we all work the ball to get open looks, we have capable shooters."
Ralph will never be confused with a scoring machine -- he took one shot Wednesday -- but his value in two wins against Valpo has come on the other end, where he absolutely stymied Justin Osburn.
"I'm always excited," Ralph said of his defensive assignments. "That's my job. I know we have guys who can score."
Chief among them is Teal, who has the confident, focused look of a senior leader who doesn't want his prep career to end this week, and is willing to do whatever he has to do to prevent that. He quarterbacked the football team and has no qualms with doing the same in basketball.
"These guys are my best friends," Teal said after registering just over half of his team's points with 23. "We play for each other."
The senior group, which also includes Corey Rusboldt, Jake Wasielewski and Brandon Roeske, have been together since fourth grade, when they were coached by Monte Moffett, now an assistant superintendent in the Duneland School Corporation. In seventh grade, they were coached by volleyball and boys track coach TR Harlan.
"It's something we try not to think about," Ralph said of the inevitable end. "It may always be in the back of your mind and you give that little extra effort. Our goal has always been to bring the sectional back to Chesterton. It's something we've put our mind to and have been striving for all season."
The Trojans are only one-third of the way there, but that's already further than many expected.
"We try to use everything for motivation," Teal said. "We're just playing hard. The games don't get any bigger. You win or go home."