WHEATFIELD | Around water coolers, message boards and opposing locker rooms, a familiar question resounded.
Is Andrean any good?
After three season-opening blowout losses, albeit to bigger schools, the answer was no.
The caveat: 12 seniors were gone, along with head coach Carson Cunningham.
The word “rebuilding” applied.
A six-game winning streak ensued. Two of the rotation players who had to adjust from playing on fake grass football fields to a hard court were back, and the answer to the familiar question was a resounding "maybe."
With the postseason full of sound and fury and signifying everything, the Fighting 59ers won their sectional, defeating New Prairie 73-61 Saturday night in the Class 3A Kankakee Valley Sectional.
The 59ers cut down the nets following the sectional for a fifth consecutive season.
They’ll return to a re-netted Kankakee Valley next Saturday for the regional, where they’ll open with Bowman Academy.
This program doesn’t have rebuilding years -- maybe a rebuilding month or a rebuilding semester.
“It’s very special,” Andrean coach Scott Hicko said Friday. “This group has worked harder than any group I’ve ever been around. They definitely earned the right to play in a sectional final.”
Andrean (13-9) picked up the press just outside the 10-second line and beat the Cougars (13-9) the way New Prairie had been beating teams earlier in the week, with transition baskets off of steals.
“We wanted to show that even though we lost all these seniors, we can win a sectional, too,” Andrean senior Ramon Guerrero said after Friday’s semifinal win over Knox.
While Guerrero and Frank Podkul, the only two seniors for Andrean, were mired in foul trouble, juniors Nick Podkul, Parker Huttel and Ben Davidson took turns dropping big shots in for the 59ers.
Nick Podkul was ferocious in a 31-point fourth quarter, connecting on all eight of his free throws to post 12 of his team-high 19 points in the quarter. Brother Frank added eight in the quarter and 12 for the game, matching Huttel’s total.
New Prairie’s Jasen Webb scored 22 points, finishing with 68 for the tournament, but Andrean never allowed him to take over the game. The 59ers also held the Cougars to seven 3-pointers, including three desperation ones in the final period when Andrean maintained a three- to four-possession advantage and stayed ahead by making 15 of 17 free throw attempts.
So was it worth it to take losses at the hands of Lake Central, Crown Point, Penn, Bishop Noll and future regional foe Bowman?
“I wouldn’t change our schedule at all,” Hicko said. “Some teams are never tested. Our weaknesses were exposed, and now that’s paying off big-time.”