NEW LENOX | A packed gym, with both sides screaming to the hilt and it coming down to the final seconds.
That was the scene Friday at the Class 4A Lincoln-Way Central Regional championship as No.6 seed Homewood-Flossmoor upset No. 3 Thornton 49-45.
You could see the joy on the faces of the H-F players and their fans as they rushed the court when the final horn went off.
You could see the frustration on the Thornton players faces as the Wildcats' hopes of a deep tournament run ended. With the sectional at Thornton, the 'Cats were really excited.
It's funny how things change in the course of a few weeks.
Less than a few weeks ago, the Homewood-Flossmoor boys basketball team didn't know if it would even be in the tourney.
Earlier, the Illinois High School Association threw its girls program out of the tournament for violation of by-laws regarding independent team participation, athletic season and open-gym limitations.
"We didn't know what was going to happen and there was nothing we could do but hope," senior Tai Odiase said. "We are grateful we had the chance to play and we just came out tonight and played our hearts out."
Especially Odiase, who had four first-half blocks and took four charges to go with his 16 points.
"We got some tough kids," H-F coach Jim McLaughlin said. "We had some losses by three, four points and it would have been easy for our kids to give up, but they never gave up. We came in to the tourney with 11 losses, but we also played a tough schedule to get us ready for the tournament.
"No doubt, I am proud of my guys. They really came out here and busted their butts."
He also alluded to the fact the Vikings could have been on the outside looking in.
"We are thankful that the IHSA and (executive director) Marty Hickman gave us a chance," McLaughlin said. "We didn't know and it was tough for the kids because they were hearing all kinds of things that we would be out."
There was a key steal and layup by sophomore Kendrick Pryor with 8.3 seconds left to seal the win.
Homewood-Flossmoor (16-11) had a double-digit lead, but Times No. 2 Thornton (20-6) battled back and took the lead. Then it was back-and-forth with each possession being precious. It came down to the end like a regional championship should.
H-F was a team which had no starters back and Odiase, an Illinois-Chicago recruit, was the lone player with much experience. It weathered the storm and a team that might not have even been in the tourney, has won its 10th regional 11 years. It will get Times No. 2 Thornwood on Wednesday at the Class 4A Thornton Sectional, a team it beat 78-63 at the Chicago Heights Classic.
OAK LAWN | St. Rita ended Mt. Caramel's season with a convincing win at Oak Lawn High School Friday night for the Oak Lawn Regional final.
The Caravan (21-9) played the game tight most of the night, but were ultimately done in by the team's inability to get to the basket. The team only connected on seven field goals the entire game, falling to the Mustangs 55-35.
"Early in the game they (St. Rita) blocked some shots, but in the second half, we had good shooters miss some shots they've made all year," said Mt. Carmel head coach Mike Flaherty.
Even with the uncharacteristically poor performance, the Caravan were within striking distance up until the final minutes; St. Rita's lead was only six at the end of the third quarter. The game turned ugly after the Mustangs built up an 11 point lead with three minutes left on the clock, and Northwestern-bound Victor Law busted open the game and deflated any chance for a Caravan comeback.
"It almost felt like the game of the century," said Law, who led all scorers with 20 points, all but five of those scored in the final quarter.
"It was a packed house, and this is like the biggest rivalry in Illinois."
The crowd, estimated around 1,400 by Oak Lawn administrators, at Friday night's game against the Chicago Catholic League rivals was energetic and only standing room was available just minutes before tip-off. Fans of the two teams heckled on another throughout the game, with Carmel fans ending the final minutes focusing on its back-to-back state football championships the past two years.
The Caravan have had a rough two weeks, starting with the loss to De LaSalle in the Chicago Catholic League tournament final in overtime.
"We had two bad games against De LaSalle and Rita, tonight, and it wasn't a reflection of how we played," Flaherty said.
"It's unfortunate this is going to be how we remember the last game of the season for our seniors."
Gabe Grant led the Caravan 14 points, while David Nichols scored nine.
Even though Mount Carmel lost, the players said they would not dwell on the game.
"Obviously, I am disappointed with the loss," said senior guard Christian Searles, who played his last game for the Caravan.
"But when I look back on my career, I feel like I gave it my all."
The win gives the Mustang's its first regional title in more than a decade and will face King in the sectional semifinal Tuesday at Marist High School.
After six years as Illiana Christian's girls basketball coach, Dave Bosman says he is stepping down.
Bosman, who has two young children, said he wants to spend more time with his family.
He said he enjoyed coaching the program and the players. He also said he would still be involved in Illiana athletics.
Drop-down dimes: Occasionally, Marian Catholic star Tyler Ulis seems to get easy assists, because opposing teams forget to cover Spartans teammate John Oliver.
Mostly, though, it's because they're trying extra hard to cover Ulis.
Witness Tuesday's regional semifinal win over Plainfield Central, when the majority of Oliver's six field goals (on the way to 14 points) were layups from the left block, fed by Ulis.
"They were so concerned with the help defense that the drop-down was there," Marian coach Mike Taylor said.
Ulis finished with 10 assists.
"We've played together so long, John just knows I'm going to jump in the air and drop it off to him," Ulis said.
Cifelli stands alone: Marian Catholic junior diver Joey Cifelli became the first Spartans boys swimmer/diver to win a state title when he accomplished the feat Saturday at the IHSA finals in Evanston.
Cable takes over: Allison Cable is Illiana Christian's new softball coach. She takes over for Mike Oppenhuis, who stepped down.
Academic honors: Mount Carmel's Dan O'Keefe was named to the IHSA's academic all-state team.
Illinois Lutheran's Jacob Heyn earned honorable mention.
Softball clinic: The Future Rebels Softball Clinic will be March 15 at T.F. South.
It is for players aged 6 to 10, who will meet from noon to 1:30 p.m., and for players aged 11 to 13, who will meet from 2 to 3:30 p.m. The cost is $25. Instruction will be given on all aspects of softball.
For details, contact coach Jamie Arundel at (708) 585-2145 or email@example.com.
Baseball clinic: The Future Rebels Baseball Clinic will be held for age groups 6 to 10 and 11 to 14 from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday at T.F. South. Registration will begin at 2:30 p.m. Cost is $30. For details, contact Matt Tiffy at (708) 585-9702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHICAGO HEIGHTS | The first official day of girls basketball practice saw the defending Class 4A state girls basketball champion Marian Catholic Spartans carrying a binder into practice.
New Marian Catholic coach Dan Murray had them put them off to the side. These were not notes from a world history or composition class. They were basketball notes.
The girls got used to carrying them around and it was more than a playbook. New coach. New system.
"We had a test a few weeks ago and we missed 24 total (questions)," senior Ashton Millender said at Tuesday's practice. "We had to run one (known as 'suicides') for each question missed. As a team."
Millender missed just one question, but she and teammates ran from baseline to-free-throw line and back together.
What was good about this year's team as they get ready to try and win back-to-back state titles is they never talked about last year. Through a busy schedule, they focused on this year.
Coach Annie Byrne stepped down in late July and Murray, who had coached at Immaculate Conception (now IC Catholic Prep) and Lisle was named a few weeks later.
While he inherited a great and talented group of kids, nothing is given. Byrne took over in 2005 for Shannon Reidy, who built the Spartans into a power. The players had to adjust a new coach and new style. The same was true for this year.
"I never really practiced with them until that first day, because I got the job so late," Murray said. "It took us some time to really get to know each other, know our roles."
Those long trips to Tennessee in November, trips to Indianapolis and St. Louis helped bring them closer.
"We had to just get to know him as a person," Millender said. "It is an adjustment when you get a new coach."
They got used to his sayings of "Thoughts?" when he wrapped up a postgame talk or when someone yawned at practice: "Go get some oxygen."
What happened was Murray and his staff of Tonishea Mack, Mark D'Apice and Ian Payne made sure everyone had the same goal. Part of the success is the girls bought into playing together for a common goal.
They are two wins away from that goal and a tough Whitney Young team awaits, looking to avenge last year's semifinal loss. Marian has been there, but the team knows that means nothing. What happens tonight counts, and the Spartans know every move they make will count. They have to shut down the Dolphins' inside game with good guard play. Marian has shot very well throughout the postseason, but they will have to work for every shot.
They will have to adhere to another of Murray's sayings: "Five girls playing as one."
CHICAGO HEIGHTS | There was no bragging, trash-talking or posting on Facebook.
The Marian Catholic girls basketball team laughed and shot around Tuesday at practice, but didn't give tonight's opponent, Whitney Young, any bulletin board material.
The Spartans (27-4) face the Dolphins (30-3) at 8:15 p.m. today in one semifinal of the Class 4A state finals at Illinois State's Redbird Arena. The Spartans beat the Dolphins, 63-39, last year in one semifinal, then beat Rolling Meadows 48-47 for the state championship.
"It's a big challenge," Marian senior Dajhae Mullins said. "They are a good team and I know they will be ready to play us. We have to be ready, too."
Marian has 14 consecutive wins and the Dolphins 15. The Dolphins are making their seventh straight final four appearance.
Whitney Young's 6-foot-5 Khaalia Hillsman is averaging a double-double with 13.4 points and 14.4 rebounds per game. Taylor Brame and Tanita Allen are both 5-10 and average 9.2 and 8.8 rebounds per game respectively.
"We have to come out strong on defense," senior Kauai Bradley said. "We have to play our game and play hard."
That is what the Spartans have done all year. With a new coach in Dan Murray, the team hit a few bumps, starting with a Dec. 14 loss to Fremd in which Marian blew a nine-point lead with a minute left to lose, 63-62. it was their second game of the day, having played Proviso East at Oswego.
"That kind of sticks out because of the way we lost," senior guard Ashton Millender said. "We let it get away. We missed some free throws and threw the ball away."
It was the Spartans' second loss and they would lose to Class 3A state qualifier Montini at the Broncos Christmas tournament, then to then-No. 1 Missouri and nationally ranked St. Louis Incarnate Word.
"We played well, but we didn't shoot well," Marian coach Dan Murray said of the 60-33 loss. "We played hard, but shot something like 29 percent from the field.
"We had a long season up to that point and then we had a week off and we needed it. We had gone to Tennessee, Indianapolis, St. Louis and then the two games in a day. We left Oswego and the girls ate a Subway sandwich, a pretzel stick and a bottle of water, then got off the bus. I also add, that is not why we lost to Fremd."
Junior guard Teniya Page said the week off was needed.
"We just needed a break," Page said. "I know I needed it with basketball and school and everything. We also had a chance to get ready for the rest of the season."
Millender, A DePaul recruit, agreed.
"It comes down to the total package, from defense to rebounding," Millender said. "We had some tough losses, but we learned from them and we did what it takes to get better."
Where: Doug Collins Court at Redbird Arena, Illinois State University
Tickets: $10 per session
TV: UToo (Channel 26.2)
Geneva (26-5) vs. Rolling Meadows (28-4), 6:30 p.m.
Whitney Young (30-3) vs. Marian Catholic (27-4), 8:15 p.m.
Third-place game, 6:30 p.m.
Championship, 8:15 p.m.
Probable starting lineups
Geneva -- Morgan Seberger, 5-11, Sr., G( 11.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.8 apg); Janie McLoughlin, 5-10, Jr., F (11.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg); Grace Loberg, 6-2, Fr., C/F (14.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.1 apg); Sidney Santos, 6-1, Sr., G/F (8.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.8 apg); Abby Novak, 6-0, Jr., G (7.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.2 apg).
Rolling Meadows -- Jackie Kemph, 5.6, sr., G (21.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 8.3 apg); Jenny Vliet, 6-2, Sr., G/F (14.4 ppg, 9.4 epg, 2.1 apg); Alexis Glasgow, 5-11, Sr., G (16.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.2 apg); Ashley Montanez, 6-1, Sr., C/F (5.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg); Kate Shewmon, 5-11, Sr., F (2.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg).
Marian Catholic -- Teniya Page, 5-7, Jr., G (15.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.7 apg; Ashton Millender, 5-10, Sr., G (16.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.2 apg); Kauai Bradley, 6-0, Jr., F (5.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.1 apg); Dajhae Mullins, 5-10, Sr., F (6.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg); Mercedes Winfrey, 5-9, Sr., G (1.1 apg).
Whitney Young -- Tanita Allen, 5-10, Jr., F (9.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.1 apg); Taylor Brame, 5-11, Sr., F (9.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg); Khaalia Hillsman, 6-5, Sr., C (13.4 ppg, 14.4 rpg); Madinah Muhammad, 5-9, Jr., G (9.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.1 apg).
Directions: Take I-80 West then exit south on I-55 (exit 126A). Stay on I-55 for 85 miles until you are in McLean County. Exit No. 164-165 for U.S. 51 busines1s /I-39. Then take exit 165 (for U.S. 51 business). Turn left onto Main Street for two miles, then turn right onto College Avenue. Redbird Arena is on the right.
Fast facts: Marian Catholic makes its second straight state semifinals appearance in the four-class system. ... Marian beat Whitney Young 63-39 in one of last year's semifinals, then beat Rolling Meadows 48-47 on a Kauai Bradley buzzer-beating putback for the state title. ... Whitney Young beat Marian three straight times (2009, 2010, 2011) in the Class 4A St. Xavier Super-Sectional. ... First Lady Michelle Obama is a Whitney Young grad. ... First-year Marian coach Dan Murray is the third Marian girls basketball coach to take a team downstate. Shannon Reidy and Annie Byrne also took the Spartans to Normal. ... Marian Catholic beat Rolling Meadows, 75-59, on Jan. 20. Marian has won 14 in a row and Whitney Young has won 15 straight.
—Compiled by Mike Nieto
NEW LENOX | For a brief moment during the second quarter on Wednesday night, Lincoln-Way Central was giving Homewood-Flossmoor all it could handle. Three-pointers were dropping in from all angles for the Knights, and a seven-point deficit became a tie on Brad Bass's shot from the free-throw line.
The Vikings regained the lead, and H-F coach Jim McLaughlin called time.
"I was unhappy with the way were were executing our offense," McLaughlin said. "We'd made a couple of bad decisions."
What he saw in the final minutes of the second quarter and all of the second half brought a smile to his face. H-F dominated both ends of the court en route to a 57-37 victory in their Class 4A regional semifinal game.
The Vikings (15-11) play Thornton Township (20-5) for the regional title and a sectional berth on Friday night at Lincoln-Way Central.
H-F's dominance during the run was most evident on defense. The Vikings held the host Knights (14-14) without a point for 9 minutes 54 seconds while scoring 19 points themselves, with Dorian McGraney (13 points) leading the way. By the time Alex Parks hit a 10-foot jumper to restart the Central offense, only 2:24 remained in the third quarter and H-F led 36-19.
"We were keyed on Parks and Bass," McLaughlin said. "We gave them our full attention."
It worked. Bass, who scored 17 points and pulled down 13 rebounds against Andrew on Monday night, was held to 11 points, including a trio of 3-pointers, and seven boards. Parks scored 9 points.
Meanwhile, Tai Odiase worked as well down low on offense as he did on defense, leading H-F with 20 points and adding three rebounds. He could have scored more, but that wasn't the plan.
"Coach wanted me to get touches and kick it out for open 3s," Odiase said.
The reward, a date with third-seeded Thornton, was welcomed by Odiase.
"I've got friends on the team from the Mean Streets (AAU) team," Odiase said. "I think we can handle 'em. We've got to be focused and play hard."
Unlike the preparation for Central, McLaughlin will have only one practice to line up for the Wildcats.
"Thornton is Thornton," McLaughlin said.
But H-F is H-F, and the Vikings' record is deceptive.
"This has been our goal for quite a while, to play our best basketball in March," McLaughlin said.
So far, so great.
CHICAGO HEIGHTS | When Kauai Bradley hit the buzzer-beating game-winner last year to give the Marian Catholic girls basketball team its first state title, then-junior Dajhae Mullins saw the whole thing unfold in the Class 4A state championship.
From the initial miss, to Megan Walsh's attempted put back which clanked into Bradley's hands as time ran out.
Mullins missed most of last year with a micro fracture and torn meniscus in her left knee.
"It was bittersweet," Mullins said. "I was so happy we won, but I wished I could have been a part of it. Been on the floor to help my team."
This year Mullins, a senior, has been a part of the Spartans' 14-game winning streak and their return to Redbird Arena.
"Dajhae has really been a big plus, stepping up and rebounding for us," teammate Ashton Millender said. "She stepped up and filled the role of Megan, getting rebounds and just playing hard."
Mullins said her knee has not bothered her and she has not let it bother her.
"At the beginning of the year, a little bit," Mullins said. "I was a little worried more because I wanted to come back and do well, but then you just have to go out and play and not worry about it."
She credits her teammates for helping her out.
"They were great," Mullins said. "They helped me get through it by encouraging me. We have a great bunch of players."
She has enjoyed every minute of the season.
"We are very close and it has just been enjoyable," Mullins said. "I am just happy to be playing and to be healthy."
Mullins is averaging 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game for the Spartans (27-4) who face No.1-ranked Whitney Young at 8:15 p.m. Friday in one semifinal of the Class 4A state finals.
First-year coach Dan Murray said Mullins has been a team player and her unselfishness is what makes her so special.
"On other teams, Dajhae could be averaging easily in double figures, 15 points a game," Murray said. "She knows she doesn't have to score that many. A lot of kids would not buy into that, but Dajhae goes out and does her job and doesn't worry about how many points she scores."
She and her teammates are focused on Whitney Young, which Marian beat in last year's semifinals.
"We have to be ready," Mullins said. "We know it will be a tough game. We have to play hard."
T.F. South defensive coordinator Bob Padjen and Mount Carmel defensive coordinator David Lenti will be inducted into the Illinois Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame on April 14
The event will take place during the organization's annual clinic at the University of Illinois.
Padjen is a T.F. South grad and was an assistant at Mount Carmel and head coach at St. Laurence prior to coming back to his alma mater.
Lenti is a St.Francis de Sales grad. Mount Carmel has won back-to-back state title in classes 8A and 7A respectively.
ESCC honors: Marian Catholic senior Tyler Ulis was named the East Suburban Catholic Conference's Player of the Year.
The Kentucky recruit and McDonald's All-American led the Spartans to an ESCC title.
Marian coach Mike Taylor was named coach of the year.
Also making the team from Marian were Ki-Jana Crawford and John Oliver.
Leslie Wilson had a team-high 19 points as The Times No. 4 Thornton boys basketball team beat Lockport 66-43 Tuesday in a Class 4A Lincoln-Way Central Regional semifinal.
Brian Davis added 16 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats (20-5), who will face the winner of tonight's Homewood-Flossmoor-Lincoln-Way Central game at 7 p.m. Friday for the championship.
Jamani Pierce had 14 points and nine rebounds, while Wilson also had five assists. Da'Quon Applewhite had eight steals.
Thornton led 14-8 after one quarter and 28-16 at halftime. It pulled away in the third quarter, as the Wildcats took a 48-30 lead.
State tickets on sale: Marian Catholic is selling tickets to its Class 4A semifinal game against Whitney Young.
The game is at 8:15 p.m. Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal.
Tickets are available at the main office and Room 213 for a price of $10 per session. Tickets will be sold until sold out or through 10 a.m. Thursday. Tickets will also be available at Redbird Arena.
OAK LAWN | Mount Carmel almost got caught looking ahead to archrival St. Rita on Tuesday night in their regional game against St. Ignatius.
The Caravan spotted the Wolfpack an 8-0 lead early in the first quarter before using an 11-2 run to take control of the game on the way to a 51-43 victory.
“We were very lethargic in the first quarter,” Caravan coach Kevin Flaherty said. “I’m not sure if they were looking ahead or if it was just first game jitters but we have to have a better game Friday.”
St. Ignatius came out firing on all cylinders in the early going, hitting four of their first five shots and frustrating the Mount Carmel (21-8) with their zone defense.
Gabe Grant finally got the offense going for the Caravan midway through the first quarter getting the ball inside and taking advantage of the smaller Wolfpack (10-15) for a pair of easy layups.
“Their zone definitely bothered us early in the game,” Grant said. “We like to push the tempo and move the ball and they slowed down the game so we just had to adjust and find a way to get it in.”
Part of the adjustment for the Caravan was picking up the intensity on defense and forcing turnovers that led to easy baskets on the other end while limiting St. Ignatius to five points in the second quarter.
“I like to play on the perimeter and drive,” Grant said. “They weren’t very big so I tried to drive to the hoop whenever I could, with the slow start just wanted to keep the team in the game early.”
Christian Searles led the defensive charge for the Caravan with three steals and limited St. Ignatius sharp-shooter Lester Larry to just six points for the game while scoring 13 of his own.
“We came out very lethargic,” Searles said. “We have to play with more intensity and have a better effort on Friday if we want to beat Rita.”
Although Mount Carmel was able to take control, they were unable to put St. Ignatius away until the final moments of regulation. The Wolfpack were able to battle back from double digit deficits twice in the fourth quarter and get the lead down to six.
“Coach (Rich) Kehoe does a great job and they are always prepared,” Flaherty said. “They were missing a couple guys so our guys may have thought they wouldn’t have to do as much but Ignatius played hard.”
With St. Ignatius forced to foul late, Searles and David Nichols combined to hit six of seven free-throws down the stretch to seal the win for the Caravan.
With the victory, Mount Carmel will face St. Rita Friday night in the regional championship.
“It won’t be hard to get up for that game,” Searles said. “They’re a great team and we’ll have to play a better game to get the win but I want to keep my undefeated streak going against them.”
CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Making the extra pass is not something new to the Bloom Township offense. The Blazing Trojans have been doing it all year long.
Bloom Township finished with 18 assists as a team and used patience at the offensive end to help run out a 16-point first quarter lead on the way to a 74-46 win over Plainfield South at the 4A Bloom Township Regional semis. The Blazing Trojans's Mickhiell Harris led the team in scoring with 20 points. James Coleman scored 15 and had five assists, while Jared Johnson chipped in 18 points. Dalvin Echols added seven assists for the Blazing Trojans and Davontae Henry came off the bench for 11 points.
"These players know what this time of year is all about," Bloom Township coach Ron Ashlaw said. "If we could get to our third and fourth looks, we were going to get some wide open looks, which we did. That's how we've been all year. I've never thought of this as a selfish team."
Bloom Township (18-8) took a 24 point lead into the half and never looked back. The Blazing Trojans aren't afraid to share the ball and senior captain Coleman has total confidence in his team when the Blazing Trojans are sharing the offensive wealth.
"We know playing as a team and playing together, we can beat anybody," Coleman said. "All the intensity was there tonight, and the defensive pressure was there."
Bloom Township moves on to Friday night's championship match to face Joliet Central. In the night cap, Crete-Monee was unable to hold a 11 point halftime lead, as Joliet Central outscored the Warriors 43-19 in the second half. Tyler Williams scored 16 for the Warriors in the loss.
"We started rushing," Crete-Monee coach Tom Cappel said. "We missed layups. I love their effort. I'm not discouraged by their effort, I'm just disappointed we didn't execute."
Despite a second half where the Warriors found themselves flat-footed for most of the half, Crete-Monee (15-13) found themselves down only three with three minutes remaining in the game. The Warriors were unable to get a defensive stop or a rebound and finished with only two points at the offensive end in the game's final four minutes.
BLUE ISLAND | Sandburg took Thornwood down to the wire in a regional semifinal matchup at Eisenhower High School on Tuesday.
Thornwood took a 33-19 lead over Sandburg (10-17) into the second half and saw it dwindle away to a three-point lead with a minute to go.
"We had a great first half. We saw we had a 20-point lead and started letting up," said Chelby Frazier, who scored eight points for Thornwood.
"What I want to see us get better at is managing that lead," said Thornwood head coach Paul Slavich.
"Sometimes we get in a hurry to shoot, because we’re feeling it. Basketball is a game of momentum. We had the momentum and jumped out early, got up big, and then they came back at us."
Thornwood (23-4) never trailed in the game, and even with the large swing in momentum, Frazier said the team was calm.
"We're good at closing games, but we have to learn how to keep the lead going."
In the final minute, Thornwood had some tough travel calls and gave up some fouls to Sandburg. However, Frazier helped put away the game after he was fouled by Sandburg's Tommy Demogerontas near the minute mark and made both free throw attempts to push the lead back up to five.
"He had two or three steals and a blocked shot," Slavich said.
"Chelby's got an enormous wingspan; he's a basketball player, and I’m glad he's with us"
While Frazier helped seal the game late, Donzel Vinson led the Thunderbirds with 18 points, including four 3-pointers, a few well beyond the arc. The senior went scoreless in the first quarter, but made a strong showing in the second to help push out Thornwood's early lead.
"My gameplan is always to make the first one [3-point shot], because that really gets my confidence going," Vinson said.
"But, if I miss, my teammates and coaches have confidence in me to let me keep shooting."
Vinson's game-leading performance was during a night he could be seen limping between plays, as the senior game slipped earlier in the game.
Thornwood faces Oak Forest in the Eisenhower Regional finals on Friday.
Even with the team’s perfect conference record, Thornwood is expecting to get every team's best shot going forward.
"It's win or go home in the playoffs,”" said Kenneth Bates, Thornwood's junior center.
"This isn't conference where it is just another game"
PLAINFIELD | Tyler Ulis doesn't have many fond memories of the Plainfield Central gym.
"We came here my freshman year, and we won our first game," he said. "Then we lost pretty bad to (Homewood-Flossmoor).
"This year, we're going to try to change that up."
Now a senior, Ulis and the Times No. 1 Spartans are halfway to that goal thanks to Tuesday's 77-52 pasting of the hosts of this Class 4A Regional. Ulis led the way with 17 points, 10 assists and six steals in a little more than 2 1/2 quarters.
Marian (25-2) faces Providence Catholic (14-14) in Friday's 7 p.m. title game. The Celtics beat T.F. South (12-15) 57-43 in Tuesday's nightcap.
"We played a good overall game — not great," Ulis said. "I think we have a couple of things we need to work on defensively. … We were a little slow on our rotations early. When we got into our defensive trapping quicker, we started getting some steals."
That didn't happen until Central (14-14) grabbed a quick 6-3 lead on what Marian coach Mike Taylor called "some easy looks."
"We're going to have to play better defense than we did to move on," Taylor added. "Ki-Jana (Crawford) and Tyler generate some offense for us on the defensive end with their steals, but it's about playing team defense."
Marian turned it around with an 11-3 burst to end the first quarter up 21-13. With Ulis scoring 11 of his points in the second and the Spartans' defense firing on all cylinders, Marian posted a 22-9 quarter and went to halftime up 43-22.
Crawford finished with three steals. John Oliver and Terrone Parham, the main beneficiaries of Ulis' playmaking, had 14 points each. Josh Cohn added 12.
Central was led by Robbie Brooks' 16 points.
In the second game, T.F. South led 13-11 after the first quarter, with six points and four points, respectively, from senior front court mates Donald Stone and Wendell Daniels. After combining for five field goals in the opening eight minutes, they had one more thereafter, and the Rebels faded from the contest much as they did from the season — rapidly.
"It's extremely frustrating," coach John O'Rourke said. "About 2 1/2 weeks ago, we were in the middle of the conference hunt. We couldn't have been more optimistic and positive. That game against Lemont really took the wind out of us."
The Rebels went into the Lemont game with a 12-11 mark. They lost four straight to finish the season, struggling offensively in each.
Against Providence, South managed just nine points in the second quarter and six — being held without a field goal until the 1:30 mark — in the third.
"I feel for my seniors — Ka-Ton (Mays), Donald, Jamahre (Baker) and Wendell," O'Rourke said. "They're impeccable young men."
Stone finished with nine points and Daniels a team-high seven rebounds in support of sophomore Keith Smith, who came off the bench to score a team-high 10.
Miles Boykin, a junior who is being heavily recruited as a major college wide receiver, led Providence with 18 points and eight rebounds.
Illiana Christian freshman girls basketball player Gabby Kreykes was named to the Metro Suburban Conference's first team.
Kreykes averaged 14.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 2.1 assists per game for the Vikings.
Class 4A Hinsdale Central Super-Sectional: Whitney Young beat Neuqua Valley 57-39.
The Dolphins will face Marian Catholic at 8:15 p.m. Friday in one state semifinal at Redbird Arena.
Catholic League honors: Mount Carmel's David Nichols was awarded the Catholic League North Tony Lawless Award and teammate Christian Searles also made the North team.
St. Francis de Sales' Tyler Streeter and Seton Academy's Christopher Seaton were named to the South team.
St. Rita's Dominique Matthews was the South's Lawless Award winner.
Class 4A Eisenhower Regional: Niko Cahue had 25 points and Erik Straka had 18 to lead Sandburg to a 77-64 win over the host Cardinals.
The Eagles play Thornwood at 6 p.m. today.
Class 4A Lincoln-Way Central Regional: Tyrail Trussell's 20 points led Lockport to a 57-43 win over Joliet West.
The Porters face Thornton at 7 p.m. today in one semifinal.
Brad Bass had a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds to lead Lincoln-Way Central to a 47-35 win over Andrew in the other quarterfinal.
The Knights face Homewood-Flossmoor at 7 p.m. Wednesday in a semifinal.
PLAINFIELD | T.F. North came all the way back from a 14-point deficit to take the lead on Plainfield Central in front of a raucous group of Wildcats fans.
The Meteors had the lead.
They left the gym with nothing but a feeling of what might have been.
Plainfield Central scored a 47-44 victory in the quarterfinal game of its Class 4A regional, doing so thanks to a timely basket by senior Orlando Landery with 46 seconds to play. His driving layup, which followed his game-tying free-throw by 29 seconds, gave the Wildcats a 46-44 lead they would not relinquish.
The heroics were needed after the Meteors, trailing 27-13 about 90 seconds into the second half, showed their good side after a bad first half. All season, the question coach Tim Bankston always had was which team would show up, and Monday, it was both.
"We were so nervous in the first half, and I don't know why," Bankston said. "At halftime I had them do breathing exercises. If we'd have played in the first half the way we played in the second half, it would have been no contest."
But largely because the Meteors (11-12) played in the first half as if they had only met that afternoon, shooting 4 of 14 from the floor and committing 13 turnovers in the first 16 minutes, Plainfield Central (13-12) was able to run out to a 25-13 lead, building it with a 16-2 run at the end of the half.
T.F. North rallied behind senior Jay Harvey, who scored eight of his team-leading 10 points in the third quarter. The Meteors cut the gap to eight points by the end of the quarter. Cecil Williams' basket with 1:35 to play gave North a 44-43 lead and followed Sadiq Salisu's conventional three-point play. T.F. North had scored seven points in 36 seconds, but would score no more.
Either team could have run away with the game had they hit free throws. Plainfield Central was 11 of 21 from the line, T.F. North 13 of 25.
Plainfield Central was led by Logan Velasquez's 13 points. The Wildcats' reward is a date with top-seeded Marian Catholic (24-2) at 6 p.m. today in one semifinal, with T.F. South (12-14) meeting Providence in the nightcap.
"We've got nothing to lose," Wildcats coach Steve Lamberti said. "It's a prize fight. We'll try and play some defense."
BLOOMINGTON | Edwardsville's Kortney Dunbar knocked down a 3-pointer late in the first quarter Monday, and quickly put up three fingers in celebration.
Marian Catholic made all of the 3-pointers the rest of the game, and were the ones left celebrating after earning another trip to the state tournament with a dominating 71-45 over the Tigers in the Class 4A Illinois Wesleyan Super-Sectional at the Shirk Center.
Marian (27-4) knocked down 11 of 20 shots from the arch (55 percent), and hit at a rate of 55.3 percent overall from the floor, putting this game out of reach just before halftime.
After Tennessee recruit Dunbar hit her 3-pointer to make it a 9-7 Spartans lead with 3:11 left in the first quarter, Marian took control with a 30-12 outburst that ended the first 16 minutes of play. Jerrell Matthews got the move started with a layup, and Gabrielle Cooper added a trey moments later to make it 14-8 at the 2:36 mark. Teniya Page (20 points, eight assists) then hit one of her four triples to make it a nine-point lead, and the Spartans led 19-12 after the first quarter.
"I think we just wanted to come out strong after having a down game last time (against Oak Lawn)," Page said. "Our 3s were just working tonight, and we know that any one of us can hit when given the opportunity."
Marian provided plenty of them, dishing out 19 assists with five different players draining a three. Marian hit seven from downtown in the first half en route to a 39-19 advantage. Edwardsville (28-2) sputtered after Dunbar's 3-pointer, the Tigers' only one of the game, shooting an average 42.1 percent from the floor.
Marian coach Dan Murray kept his team's hot night in perspective, suggesting that on another night, the result could have been different.
"If we played them tomorrow, this could have been Edwardsville's night. But tonight, it was just a matchup thing I think," he said. "I mean, we definitely have girls who can hit the 3, and this was a big night for us, especially against a great team like Edwardsville."
Ashton Millender scored a game-high 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and a perfect 3 of 3 from the free throw line. Aaliyah Covington paced Edwardsville with 18 points.
Tigers coach Lori Blade didn't let a bad loss to end the season overshadow the accomplishments of a 28-win team.
"This was a successful season, and this changes nothing," she said. "I know the girls are going to be upset now, but they'll look back on this season as a whole and know it was a success."
Whitney Young defeated Neuqua Valley 57-39 in the Hinsdale Central Super-Sectional to set up a state semifinal matchup with Marian at 8:15 p.m. on Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal.
Page said that despite being defending state champs, she and her teammates aren't feeling any pressure heading into the final four where they will face Whiteny Young, a team it beat in one semifinal last year.
"Winning state, that was last year, so we're just focusing on the now," Page said. "The way I look at it, we have two games left. So it's time to go out and play to win and have some fun."
VALPARAISO | Lavonte Dority swears he doesn’t have a Superman cape under his uniform when he takes the floor against UIC. The Valparaiso senior has plenty of highlight tape against the Flames during his career that would suggest otherwise.
Dority, named first team all-Horizon League on Monday afternoon, has averaged 19.5 points and 3.5 assists in four meetings with UIC. If the No. 4 Crusaders are going to make a deep run in the Horizon League tournament, they’ll need Dority to equal those numbers against not only the No. 9 Flames, but the rest of the league as well.
“There isn’t really a difference for me when I play against UIC,” Dority said. “It’s not really a special game. I know some of those guys from home, but we’re at the point now where we need to look at every game as important.”
Valparaiso opens the conference tournament at the Athletics-Recreation Center against UIC tonight. With a victory, the Crusaders would advance to Green Bay to play the winner of No. 5 Milwaukee/No. 8 Detroit on Friday night. Despite UIC’s 1-15 conference record, Dority and his teammates aren’t taking anything for granted after a disappointing finish to the regular season.
“We’re not taking those guys lightly by any stretch,” Dority said. “They can be a very dangerous team. We need to focus on getting this win and take that first step toward our goal.”
The Crusaders (17-14) swept UIC this season, winning both games by an average of nearly 20 points. Dority scored a career-best 33 points at the UIC Pavilion last month, but the number that has really helped Valparaiso against the Flames has been the lack of turnovers. The Crusaders, coming off two games this week in which they turned the ball over a combined 38 times, had just 21 total miscues against UIC this season, their lowest mark against a conference opponent.
“We’re stressing the turnovers and we need to get shots up,” Drew said. “I want the players to stay aggressive and if they’re going to make mistakes, I want them to be aggressive mistakes.”
Dority is second on the team in turnovers with 65 this season, trailing only Moussa Gueye (70). The Crusaders finished the regular season with 472 miscues, more than 130 than their opponents. Drew said following Saturday’s loss to Cleveland State that it was too late in the season to expect a culture shift and Dority echoed those thoughts on Monday.
“There’s nothing you can really do about the turnovers,” Dority said. “We just need to continue to play our brand of basketball. I’m going to go out there and play my hardest. I’m going to ask my teammates to play their hardest. We’re giving it our all and we’re focusing on moving to the next round however we have to do it.”
CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Samson wouldn't have taken the risk.
But, Tyler Williams showed up for the start of Crete-Monee's basketball postseason with a fresh haircut Monday, and he lost none of his strength as a 3-point shooter, his five treys helping to lift the Warriors past Lincoln-Way East 71-55. Crete (15-12) advanced to an 8 p.m. semifinal today in the Bloom Township Class 4A Regional against Joliet Central.
In Monday's early contest, Plainfield South beat Washington 81-42. The Cougars (15-12) face Bloom Townhip at 6 p.m. today in the first semifinal.
"I wanted something new," Williams said of his short-cropped look. "It's a nice, clean cut."
The Warriors did not trim the Griffins (6-20) so neatly from the postseason, watching a 19-point lead entering the fourth quarter shrink to nine in barely three minutes. But with Williams hitting the first four of nine Crete free throws in the quarter, the Warriors held on.
Williams also keyed Crete's 3-point barrage that spanned the first and second quarters, when the Warriors made five straight from beyond the arc to go from trailing East 13-7 to leading the Griffins 22-15.
After missing his first two 3-point attempts, and his first five shots overall, Williams finished with a game-high 25 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field and 8-of-9 from the line. He was 5 of 8 from long range.
"He's shooting about 35-percent shooter from out there," Crete coach Tom Cappel said. "He's a legitimate 3-point shooter."
"I was a little bit anxious to play," Willams said of his slow start, "and I had to get used to the rims."
The Warriors didn't have much choice. East's didn't leave a lot of options.
"The way they came out in that zone, they were really forcing us to shoot," Williams said.
So they shot. For the game, the Warriors shot better from 3-point range (10-of-16, 63 percent) than they did overall (21-of-40, 53 percent).
Bobby Parker was another of Crete's ranking marksmen, making 3 of 5 3-pointers en routed to 12 points while also pulling down 12 rebounds. Mike Nelson and Brandon Johnson added 11 points each.
"That's the hardest they've played in a while," Crete coach Tom Cappel said. "We'll find out (Tuesday) if they've got anything left in the tank."
Lincoln-Way East seas led by Jake Attar, who came off the bench to score 14 points — eight of those in the fourth quarter. Austin Winkler added 11.
Scouting the Horizon League Tournament
First Round (at campus sites)
Game 1: No. 9 UIC (6-24) at No. 4 Valparaiso (17-14), 7:05 p.m.
Game 2: No. 8 Detroit (13-18) at No. 5 Milwaukee (17-13), 6 p.m.
Game 3: No. 7 Youngstown State (15-16) at No. 6 Oakland (12-19), 6 p.m.
Second Round (at Resch Center, Green Bay)
Game 4: Game 3 winner vs. No. 3 Wright State (18-13), 6 p.m.
Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 8:30 p.m.
Semifinals (at Resch Center, Green Bay)
Game 6: Game 4 winner vs. No. 2 Cleveland State (21-10), 6 p.m.
Game 7: Game 5 winner vs. No. 1 Green Bay (24-5), 8:30 p.m.
Championship (at highest remaining seed), 6 p.m.
Favorite: Green Bay
Darkhorse: Wright State
Local Players to Watch: GREEN BAY -- Greg Mays, Jr., F; Josh Humphrey, So., G/F. UIC -- Hayden Humes, Sr., F; Jay Parker, Jr., G. VALPARAISO -- Lavonte Dority, Sr., G; Alec Peters, Fr., F. YOUNGSTOWN STATE -- Ronnye Beamon, Fr., G.
Fast Facts: The Crusaders will have to win four straight games in order to capture a second consecutive league tournament title. ... Two of the last five champions have won four games in the tournament. ... Valparaiso has twice advanced to the semifinals when having to play in the first round, including in 2011 in its only appearance as the No. 4 seed. -- Paul Oren
HARVEY | Thornton's Jamani Pierce and Justin Taylor don't mind if social media is unsociable towards them.
Instead of texting back, the two use the jibes as a positive and do their talking with their on-court actions.
"I got everything negative people have said about me on a piece of paper on my wall in my room," Pierce said. "I look at it everyday as motivation to get better.
"I didn't play that much last year and people were talking that I couldn't play, I wasn't that good. Well, I went out and worked on things everyday to get better."
Taylor does the same.
"People said I had a good junior year, but I couldn't have a good year and lead the team this year," Taylor said. "We both hear things, but I don't get mad, I use that as a way to better my game, to help my team."
Both have been a reason the Wildcats are 19-5 overall and finished second in the in the SouthWest Suburban Red Conference with a 12-2 mark as they prepare for the Class 4A Lincoln-Way Central Regional. They are also a reason Thornton is the No. 4 seed in the Class 4A Thornton Sectional complex.
"Both attack the boards and are not afraid to get in there in the paint," Thornton coach Troy Jackson said. "They can score, but they are leaders. They are out here pushing the younger kids, doing what you want your seniors to do."
Another motivating factor was the team's usual slow start at the Decatur Thanksgiving tournament.
"We always struggle down there," Pierce said. "We came back 1-2 and we just knew we had to get better and it was on us to see that we did."
Since then, the Wildcats are 18-3, having lost twice to Thornwood and once Marian Catholic.
"We didn't want what happened last year, 14-15 or something like that," Taylor said. "We were juniors and I had a good year, but I didn't because we didn't as a team. My goal and my job as a captain is to make sure we are playing our best, make sure everyone is on the same page."
The 6-foot-4 Pierce is averaging a double-double with 15.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Taylor, who is 6-6, is averaging 16.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
"Justin is a big man who can also score from the outside, but he can go to the basket and play inside," Jackson said. "Jamani is a strong kid and he can control things underneath and has a nice shot. Both give us a strong inside game and an advantage on the boards."
(Seedings in parentheses)
Game 1 — (4) Rich Central vs. (5) Thornridge, 6 p.m.
Game 2 — (3) Bremen vs. (6) Agricultural Science, 8 p.m.
(1) Morgan Park vs. Winner Game 1, 6 p.m.
(2) Hillcrest vs. Winner Game 2, 8 p.m.
Championship, 7 p.m.
Advancement: Winner plays Kankakee Regional champion at 7 p.m. March 11 in one semifinal of the Rich East Sectional.
Favorite: Morgan Park
Local players to watch: THORNRIDGE — Darrion Robinson, 6-4, Jr., F; Leeshaun Evans, 6-1, Jr., G; Xavier Robinson, 6-4, Sr., F.
Plainfield Central Regional
Game 1 — (16) Plainfield Central vs. (18) T.F. North, 7 p.m.
(1) Marian Catholic vs. Winner Game 1, 6 p.m.
(8) Providence Catholic vs. (9) T.F. South, 8 p.m.
Championship, 7 p.m.
Advancement: Winner plays Bloom Township Regional champion at 7 p.m. March 11 in one semifinal of the Thornton Sectional.
Favorite: Marian Catholic
Local players to watch: MARIAN CATHOLIC — Tyler Ulis, 5-9, Sr., G; Josh Cohn, 5-9, Sr., G; Ki-Jana Crawford, 5-9, Sr., G; John Oliver, 6-4, Sr., C; Terorne Parham, 6-7, Sr., F. T.F. NORTH —Sadiq Salisu, 5-5, Jr., G; Johari Dix, 5-4, Jr./, G; Christian Johnson, 6-6, Jr., F; Vance Johnson, 6-7, Jr., F; Jay Harvey, 6-8, Sr., C. T.F. SOUTH — Ronald Ryan, 6-0, Jr., G; Ka-Ton Mays, 6-3, Sr., G; Donald Stone, 6-3, Sr., F; Jamahre Baker, 5-10, Sr., G; Wendell Daniels, 6-4, Sr., G/F.
Lincoln-Way Central Regional
Game 1 — (14) Lockport vs. (19) Joliet West, 6 p.m.
Game 2 — (12) Lincoln-Way Central vs. (22) Andrew, 8 p.m.
(3) Thornton vs. Winner Game 1, 7 p.m.
(6) Homewood-Flossmoor vs. Winner Game 2, 7 p.m.
Championship, 7 p.m.
Advancement: Winner plays Eisenhower Regional champion at 7 p.m. March 12 in one semifinal of the Thornton Sectional.
Local players to watch: HOMEWOOD-FLOSSMOOR — Tai Odiase, 6-8, Sr., F; Destin Barnes, 6-5, Jr., G; Dorian McCraney, 5-9, Sr., G. THORNTON — D'Quan Applewhite, 6-1, Jr., G; Da'Marques Turner, 5-8, Sr., G; Justin Taylor, 6-6, Sr., F; Jamani Pierce, 6-4, Sr., F.
Bloom Twp. Regional
Game 1 — (13) Plainfield South vs. (20) Washington, 6 p.m.
Game 2 — (11) Crete-Monee vs. (21) Lincoln-Way East, 8 p.m.
Game 3 — (4) Bloom Twp. vs. Winner Game 1, 6 p.m.
Game 4 — (5) Joliet Central vs. Winner Game 2, 8 p.m.
Championship, 7 p.m.
Advancement: Winner plays Plainfield Central Regional champion at 7 p.m. March 11 in one semifinal of the Thornton Sectional.
Favorite: Bloom Township
Darkhorse: Joliet Central
Local players to watch: CRETE-MONEE — Mike Nelson, 6-5, Jr.. G; Tyler Williams, 6-2, Jr., G; Brandon Johnson, 6-3, Sr., G. BLOOM TOWNSHIP — Zerell Jackson, 5-10, Sr., G; James Coleman, 6-5, Sr., C; Jared Johnson, 6-5, Sr., F; Mickhiell Harris, 6-3, Jr., F.
Game 1 — (15) Sandburg vs. (17) Eisenhower, 6 p.m.
Game 2 — (10) Minooka vs. (23) Lincoln-Way North, 8 p.m.
(2) Thornwood vs. Winner Game 1, 6 p.m.
(7) Oak Forest vs. Winner Game 2, 8 p.m.
Championship, 7 p.m.
Advancement: Winner plays Lincoln-Way Central Regional champion at 7 p.m. March 12 in one semifinal of the Thornton Sectional.
Darkhorse: Oak Forest
Local players to watch: THORNWOOD — Rashaad Alexander, 6-0, Sr., G; Chelby Frazier, 5-11, Jr., G; Kenny Bates, 6-9, Jr., C; Kaliph Fagan, 6-4, Jr., F.
Oak Lawn Regional
Game 1 — (13) Kenwood vs. (17) Oak Lawn, 6 p.m.
Game 2 — (12) St. Ignatius vs. (21) Juarez, 8 p.m.
(4) St. Rita vs. Winner Game 1, 6 p.m.
(5) Mt. Carmel vs. Winner Game 2, 8 p.m.
Championship, 7 p.m.
Advancement: Winner plays King Regional champion at 7 p.m. March 11 in one semifinal of the Marist Sectional.
Favorite: St. Rita
Darkhorse: Mount Carmel
Local players to watch: MOUNT CARMEL — David Nichols, 6-0, Sr., G; Christian Searles, 5-10, Sr., G; Gabe Grant, 6-4, Sr., F; Montana Byrd, 6-3, Sr., G/F.
Seton Academy senior guard Ebony Bailey was named to the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association's Class 1A/2A girls all-state team.
Bailey helped the Sting advance to the super-sectional for the third straight year and was the GCAC White Division player of the year.
Bertrand earns honors: T.F. South's Ninah Bertrand was named the south Suburban Blue Conference's co-player of the year.
Bertrand, who helped lead the Rebels to 20 wins, shared the honor with Oak Forest's Maddie Baxa and Hillcrest's Tanazania Sherrill. The Rebels' Ren'Cia Rolling also made all-conference, and Kameron Dickens earned special mention.
T.F. North's Tyra Johnson was named to the all-conference team, and Chanel Howard made special mention.
T.F. South and Richards shared the the sportsmanship award.
IHSA state championships: Both the Class 1A and 2A state finals were blowouts as Champaign Thomas More won in Class 2A and Annawanwon in Class 1A
Thomas More had four players in double figures as it beat Prophetstown 70-34. Alexa Wallas had 18 points and Teri McCoy had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
In Class 1A, Annawan held Carrollton to single-digit scoring in every quarter en route to a 59-23 win.
Cierra Davis led Annawan with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
In the third-place game, Miranda Grisham's two free throws with 10 seconds left sealed a 55-50 win for Eastland over Moweaqua Central A&M.
In the Class 2A third-place game, the Teutopolis Lady Shoes beat IC Catholic 32-28.
IHSA state team meet: Oak Park-River Forest beat Marist 31-22 for the Class 3A title at U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington.
in Class 2A, Montini beat Geneseo 49-21 and in Class 1A, Dakota won easily, 65-3 over Petersburg PORTA.
Mount Carmel to play Pennsylvania power: The Prep Bowl Kick-Off Classic, which had been at Soldier Field, will be played at Toyota Park in 2014.
Defending Class 7A state champion Mount Carmel will play Pennsylvania Class AAAA state champion Philadelphia St. Joseph Prep at noon on Aug. 31.
Class AAAA is the largest class in Pennsylvania.
Mount Carmel's Nichols earns honor: Mount Carmel senior guard David Nichols was the winner of the Tony Lawless Award for the Catholic League North, which goes to the top senior in the league.
EVANSTON | On a cold and snowy Saturday afternoon, Marian Catholic diver Joey Cifelli took to the pool and brought home a state title.
He picked up the IHSA crown with a 474.05, 36 points clear of his nearest competitor. It's the first state diving title for the Spartans.
"I’m really happy winning this,” Cifelli said. “I knew it was close coming in, and I was really nervous this morning. I was really over thinking things, but my coach just said to go out there and do what you do every day in practice.”
If Cifelli was suffering from nerves, it wasn’t noticeable. He seemed completely relaxed on the deck as he prepared for the final three dives of the meet.
“I do all my jumping and shaking and preparation in the back,” he said. “On the deck, I try to just stay relaxed and visualize each dive before I attempt them.”
After taking home the title, Cifelli was greeted by a mass of competitors, coaches, and officials in the locker room where phrases like “hard worker” and “great kid” seemed to be coming from all directions.
He can thank his blue-collar upbringing for instilling these values in him from a young age.
Joey’s dad John is an iron worker and his mom Sylvia is a teacher at Marian Catholic. The Cifellis have lived in Chicago Heights for generations. They have told all four of their sons that they should choose their own path and work hard if they want to be successful.
“Joey is the hardest working of all our boys,” John Cifelli said. “He drives himself to practices from Homewood to UIC to southern Wisconsin and he keeps his grades up, as well. We’re lucky to be able to help him out; we’re just working-class folks.”
“You make sacrifices for your children,” Sylvia Cifelli added. “When he went to his first diving lesson, he came out and mouthed, 'I love it'. From that day forward, we’ve just told him that as long as he loves it to go after it and we’ll support him.”
Joey shared the title with the entire family, something they will enjoy for a long time to come.
“I’m really excited. My brother Robby won a state title in baseball a couple years ago at Marian and the whole family has been holding that over me,” Joey said.
“I know it means a lot seeing me win one on my own. They really push me, but they always say that if I don’t like it anymore I should stop. I just don’t see that ever happening.”
After his team escaped Bloom Trail with a 67-62 overtime sectional title win Tuesday over Oak Lawn, Marian coach Dan Murray seemed especially pleased for forward Kauai Bradley.
The 6-foot junior endured a rough February, missing a couple of games with a knee issue and posting a scoreless outing and a one-point effort in two of the Spartans' earlier playoff contests.
Against Oak Lawn, she was her usual intimidating, ball-hawking presence on defense while at last finding the range on offense. She had 11 points and eight rebounds.
"I was really happy for Kauai," Murray said. "She struggled against Lincoln-Way East (scoring one point in the sectional semis), and I knew she was down.
"But, she was the first one in the gym the next day, working on the things that didn't go her way in that game."
The Spartans have won 10 sectional titles in 13 seasons.
The confidence boost against Oak Lawn couldn't have come at a better time. In Monday's Illinois Wesleyan Super-Sectional, the Spartans (26-4) meet Edwardsville (28-1) and 6-2 Tennessee-bound senior Kortney Dunbar.
Dunbar, a shooting guard averaging 17 points per game, is a matchup problem for many. But Bradley, Marian's tallest starter, would seem to have the speed and length for the assignment.
"Well, I hate to give away too much," Murray said. "But it's a good bet that Kauai will see some time on Dunbar. But, honestly, that's going to be based on what they try to do with Dunbar.
"Fortunately, we've got a lot of athletic kids who are pretty versatile."
The same can be said for the Tigers, who have more than a few similarities to the Spartans.
Edwardsville has won 11 sectionals in the last 13 seasons, and finished second in state in 2012. Last season, the Tigers were 30-0 until losing in the sectional title game to Peoria Richwoods. This season, starting five seniors, the Tigers have outscored opponents by an average of 31 points per game.
Edwardsville had a narrow 49-44 win over Bradley-Bourbonnais in the sectional final.
Before edging Oak Lawn, Marian had won 12 in a row by double-digits. The defending Class 4A state champs start three seniors along with Bradley and Teniya Page, both starters as sophomores on last year's squad.
And, like Edwardsville with Dunbar and its other 17-points-per-game scorer, St. Louis-bound forward Aaliyah Covington, the Spartans have two "star" players – Page and DePaul-bound Ashton Millender.
"But it's a team game – not everybody from the outside understands that," Murray said. "The key is to get the kids to understand it. Our girls do.
"Yes, somebody makes the shot. But who is the kid who set the screen? Who is the kid who reversed the ball? This team has bought into team."
Murray ticked through his list of contributors.
"(Against Oak Lawn) Kauai had a great game," he said. "Dajhae (Mullins) was awesome on the glass. Gabby Cooper has stepped up and made some huge shots. Jerell Matthews has stepped up and made some huge shots. Katie Sedor played great in the regional final.
"We've got some kids who, in other environments, might be the go-to person. It's a credit to both programs."
Edwardsville isn't a two-girl show, either. Kennedy Martin averaged 8 points per game in the regular season, but she has been in double digits throughout the playoffs, including a team-high 17 points in the win over Bradley.
CHICAGO | Times No. 3 Mount Carmel would have had a hard time reading an eye chart on the wall at the optometrist's office.
The Caravan did not have their focus Friday night as a lackadaisical third quarter led to a 70-67 home loss to St. Viator.
"We weren't looking past them, but we definitely were looking to our next game," senior David Nichols said. "We were more focused on Tuesday (the Class 4A Oak Lawn Regional) than we were on this game. We admit it. We shouldn't have, but we were."
It was just the second time the Caravan (20-8) lost two in a row. The other was in December at the Pekin tournament.
"We made a lot of mistakes in that third quarter too and it cost us," Gabe Grant said. "Long shots, not rebounding, not getting back on defense."
The Caravan made it interesting as the Lions (21-5) missed a pair of front ends of 1-and-1s and Mount Carmel scored to close what was a seven-point gap with less than a minute left.
Nichols had 23 points, while Grant had a double-double with 20 points and 14 rebounds.
"We tried to stop (Ore) Arogundade but he got hot and also (Roosevelt) Smart," Nichols said. "When we did, they dished out and hit their shots. "
Mount Carmel led 32-24 at halftime, but the Lions opened the Lions opened the third quarter with a 15-6 run to take a 39-38 lead. There were eight third-quarter lead changes as the Caravan went nearly three minutes without scoring in the third quarter.
"We knew they are a good-shooting team and they didn't shoot that well in the first half," Caravan coach Mike Flaherty said. "We left their guys open, let them get into the transition game by taking bad shots."
Arogundade had 10 of his 23 points in the third quarter as the Lions outscored Mount Carmel 25-17 in the quarter. Smart had nine of his 11 points in the second half.
"We can't look past Tuesday or we're done," Flaherty said.
COUNTRY CLUB HILLS | It had the makings of an upset.
T.F. South chasing second place in the South Suburban Blue. Hillcrest already with the conference title — its 26th straight, and seventh for coach Don Houston after 19 with Tom Cappel at the helm — in its pocket.
And the Rebels leading by three at halftime.
Then the Hawks came out flying in the third quarter, beginning with junior DeAngelo Isby's 3-pointer, tying the game. And following a basket by T.F. South's Ka-Ton Mays, a 9-0 Hillcrest run that expanded to 12-2, and effectively settled the score.
Hillcrest's 66-54 victory earned the Hawks a 12-1 record in the conference and a 19-6 mark entering the state tournament. T.F. South dropped to 12-14, 9-4 in the league, with coach John O'Rourke promising a pair of robust practices in advance of the Rebels' playoff opener against Providence Catholic at Plainfield Central on Tuesday.
The focus? Finishing.
"We need to understand that down the stretch, in game situations, we have to execute," O'Rourke said. "We have to control the tempo. Those two things. The second half, we were not as sharp as the first half."
The Hawks were sharp as a laser defensively and poured in 40 points as well, with Allen Jones and Taylor Adway scoring 17 and 13, respectively. George McDaniel's 10, of which 8 came after the break, also helped. And Hillcrest's fast hands created 14 T.F. South turnovers.
"We have to limit our mistakes and play as a team," the Rebels' Mays said.
Mays' nine points led the Rebels, but he wasn't around at the finish, fouling out with 4:05 to play.
"Some games, something has been missing," Mays said. "We have to play as a team. Shots weren't falling (in the second half), but you've got to look past that and play. Coach O told us to keep playing to the final buzzer."
T.F. South was seeking a second-place finish behind the Hawks, which is nearly as good as first, considering a generation of Hillcrest dominance of the SSC Blue, and SICA Central prior to that. Now, the Rebels are looking at a three-game losing streak going into March Madness.
"We'll figure it out by Tuesday," Mays said. "I believe in my teammates."
HARVEY | The story of Thornton's depth, for coach Troy Jackson, goes back to the school's annual Purple and White game.
"You know what? We scrimmage, first team vs. second team, every year," he said. "This year, I split them up, seniors vs. juniors. In my 11 years, the second team never won — until this year."
The second team won again Friday, as the Times No. 2 Wildcats overwhelmed a very good Bradley-Bourbonnais squad, 74-52, to claim second place in the SouthWest Suburban Red. The bench accounted for 33 of Thornton's points, including 14 of 17 in the pivotal second quarter, and with leading scorer Justin Taylor exiting the game with an ankle injury in the second quarter, Brian Davis came off the bench to lead the Wildcats with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
"We're deep, man," Jackson said. "When we rotate our guys, when we've got nine or 10 guys going against six or seven, it's going to be tough."
Actually, Thornton (19-5, 12-2) went 11 deep in the first half, its bench outscoring Bradley's 14-0. Meanwhile, the Boilermakers (19-5, 10-4), committed six turnovers playing mostly against Thornton's starters in the first quarter, and six more largely opposite the reserves in the second.
Perhaps that's why Davis answered, "Seven," when asked how many times in 10 tries Thornton's second five might beat its first five. And why Jamani Pierce, Thornton's starting center, was willing to concede the Wildcats' first five might lose, "Maybe three."
All the Wildcats teamed up to frustrate Bradley's leading scorer, Levester Harris, into a 10-point night. The Boilermakers were led by Micah Bradford's 15, while Zachary Hollywood added 11.
D'Quan Applewhite got things going for Thornton, scoring eight of his 12 points for the night in the first period, including the first five in an 11-2 run that left Thornton ahead 19-10 after the first quarter. Davis led the way with six in the second quarter, which ended with Thornton up 36-22, and Leslie Wilson had all eight of his points in the third.
Meanwhile, Pierce was steady throughout, finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds.
"With Justin out, I probably demanded the ball more," Pierce said.
Davis, like Taylor a lanky 6-foot-6, would likely absorb most of Taylor's minutes in the event of a lengthy absence. Jackson doubted that would be the case, though Taylor did leave Thornton in a walking boot on his way to an area hospital for X-rays.
"We'll keep going full speed ahead," Davis said. "We won't change the way we play."
Thornton next takes the court Tuesday in regional action at Lincoln-Way Central, against the winner of Monday's contest between Lockport and Joliet West.
CRETE | It was a night when it seemed that everything that needed to happen for Crete-Monee to get a win was happening.
Crete-Monee limited Rich South to four points in the first quarter, held leading scorer Bryce Lydon scoreless until the final two minutes of the game and were able to feed the ball inside for easy baskets at will.
But in what has become the norm in the second half of the season, the Warriors (14-12, 5-5 Southland Athletic Conference) lost intensity early in the second and fourth quarters and allowed the Stars to take control of the game and a 65-60 win.
“We hurt ourselves more than anything tonight,” Warrior’s coach Tom Cappel said. “Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy; we were a little selfish out there.”
After taking a 9-4 lead into the second quarter all the energy seemed to leave the Warriors who allowed Rich South (11-14, 4-6 Southland Athletic Conference) to open the second quarter on a 12-2 run seizing the momentum along the way.
“We tried a new starting five tonight,” Junior forward Mike Nelson said. “We started a little slow offensively in the first half and it cost us.”
After falling behind 31-22 early in the third quarter, the Warriors responded with an 11-2 run of their own to tie the game at 33 and took the lead 40-39 moments later behind 6-foot-8-inch center Rashad Lee who had seven of his game-high 14 points and four rebounds in the quarter.
The Stars had no answer for Lee inside using three different players and 13 fouls to try to slow him down as the Warriors continually fed him the ball in the second half.
Lee’s scoring total could have been higher as he found his way to the line six times on the night, but converted only 4 of 10 free-throws.
“Rashad played well tonight,” Cappel said. “But I had to sit him in the fourth quarter because he didn’t hit the free-throws.”
Rich South used another run in the fourth quarter to open a 10-point lead with just over three minutes to play, but the Warriors still had one push left in them.
Senior Guard Tyler Williams scored seven points in a 45 second stretch to cut the lead to four points, but with the Warriors forced to foul, the Stars hit 5 of 6 free-throws down the stretch to take home the victory.
“We didn’t play together very well,” Cappel said. “It seems like we have a different team show up on different nights, we’ve got Lincoln-Way East on Monday, so we’ll see who shows up.”
Despite 22 points from Caleb Jonkman, the Illiana Christian boys basketball team fell to Carver Military, 78-71, Friday in the Class 2A Carver Military Regional final.
The Vikings (17-11) cold not sop the Challengers down the stretch. Illiana led 43-37 at halftime.
Thornwood 56, Lincoln-Way West 42: Rashaad Alexander had 13 points and Kaliph Fagan added 12 to give The Times No. 2 Thunderbirds (22-4, 14-0) a perfect SouthWest Suburban Red season. Jon Marotta had 21 points for Lincoln-Way West (12-13, 6-8).
Homewood-Flossmoor 69, Lincoln-Way East 52: Tai Odiase scored a game-high 18 points, Kendrick Pryor added 15 and Destin Barnes had 14 to lead the Vikings (14-11, 10-4 SouthWest Suburban Blue).
Thornridge 58, Lincoln-Way North 53: Tevin Newman scored 22 points, and Darrion Robinson had 17 points and six rebounds for the Falcons (9-17, 6-8 SouthWest Suburban Red), who went on a 21-4 surge in the second quarter to take a 31-15 lead at the half before hanging on to win.
Class 2A Wilmington Regional: Braidwood Reed-Custer ended Beecher's season with a 92-63 win in the championship.
Boys swimming and diving
IHSA state meet: Marian Catholic's Joey Cifelli is in first place after the first day of diving and the IHSA state finals at Evanston Township High School.
Cifelli has 346.50 points. Loyola Academy's Christopher Canning is second with 319.40. Cifelli will compete today with a chance to win a state title after finishing second last year.
Homewood-Flossmoor's Jakobi McClellan was 34th in the 100-yard backstroke (53.91) and did not qualify for today's finals.
News and Notes
Former Thornridge A.D. dies: Ron Bonfiglio, former Thornrdige athletic director, died Thursday at his home in New Lenox.
Mount Carmel boys basketball coach Mike Flaherty was hired by Bonfiglio when he was at Thornridge.
"I was sad to hear about Ron, he was really a good guy," Flaherty said. "He was a coach's coach. He was great to work under."
There will be a visitation from 3-8 p.m. Monday at Kurtz Memorial Chapel in New Lenox.
Caleb Jonkman's 34 points and Brandon Galambos' double-double led the Illiana Christian boys basketball team to a 70-60 win over top seed Fenger in one semifinal of the Class 2A Carver Military Academy Regional on Thursday.
Galambos had 11 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Zack Pruim added 13 points.
Fenger led 42-37 at halftime.
The Vikings will play Carver at 7 p.m. today for the championship.
Class 4A Edwardsville Sectional: The host Tigers beat Bradley-Bourbonnais 49-44 for the championship.
Edwardsville will play Marian Catholic at 7 p.m. Monday in the Illinois Wesleyan Super-Sectional.
News and notes
IHSA reinstates three schools: Following an appeal Thursday, the Illinois High School Association board of directors reinstated Bogan,Hyde Park and Uplift high schools into the IHSA Class 3A boys basketball state tournament, an IHSA news release stated. As a result, the playing schedules for the regionals in the Antioch and Chicago Vocational) Sectional complexes have been restored to their original configuration following last week’s seed meetings (seeds and schedules have been updated on the IHSA website).
The teams were initially ruled ineligible by IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman on Monday after it was discovered that all three schools had violated IHSA by-law 5.042 (Boys’ Basketball Season Limitations).
“After thoughtful and deliberate consideration,” IHSA Associate Executive Director Kurt Gibson said. “The Board ultimately felt that a scheduling error by the coaches and administration was not a severe enough infraction that it should result in the team losing the opportunity to play in the postseason.”
The Board ruled that the head coach at Bogan, Hyde Park and Uplift will be suspended for the remainder of the season. During that time, they will not be allowed any contact with their teams’ at practices, games or other team activities. In addition, the schools will forfeit the extra contests they played this season, be placed on probation for one year and have administrators from the school required to attend the IHSA New Administrators Workshops in 2014 and 2015. —ihsa.org
CHICAGO HEIGHTS | There wasn't a lot of celebrating after Marian Catholic beat Nazareth Academy, 79-56, Thursday to win its first outright East Suburban Catholic Conference title.
The Spartans' focus is on the Class 4A tournament, which begins Tuesday. They also didn't lose their focus Thursday and got off to a fast start.
McDonald's All-American Tyler Ulis hit his first three shots and Josh Cohn continued with a hot hand, drilling three 3-pointers in the first quarter.
"I really felt confident out there and my shot was falling," Cohn said. "We came out and wanted to get it done, win the conference and go undefeated at home."
The mission was accomplished as Cohn had 15 points for Times No. 1 Marian Catholic (24-2, 8-0), which won its first ESCC title since 2000-01 and third overall. It is the first time the Spartans went undefeated in conference play. Marian will take a nine-game winning streak into Tuesday's Plainfield Central Regional.
"This was big," Ulis said. "We knew we had to come out and play hard right away and we did. Josh got hot and I kept feeding him the ball."
Marian trailed 11-10, but went on a 16-0 run to take a 26-11 lead on a John Oliver basket with 2:19 left in the first quarter. From the last 90 seconds of the first quarter through late in the second quarter, the Spartans held the Roadrunners (13-15, 3-5) without a field goal.
"Last year, we didn't win the conference, we lost to St. Viator and Benet," Ulis said. "This is a big deal for us, the program."
Marian's bench also got a lot of playing time with Xavier Parker scoring eight points.
"It was good we got some quality time because it is only going to help in the playoffs," Parker said. "We came in and I think we increased the lead."
Ulis also had eight assists. Oliver had eight points, six rebounds and three blocks.
"This is great right now, but we got a tougher road ahead of us,"" Oliver said. "We take it one game at a time."
The 24-2 record is the best start in the program's history.
CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Ninety seconds into the second quarter, Marian Catholic coach Dan Murray stared down the sideline at Ashton Millender, his offensive centerpiece.
"Hey," he roared at the DePaul-bound senior, "you've got to get aggressive!"
Millender promptly launched a 3-point attempt. And missed. Two minutes later she was on the bench with her second foul, an 0-for-3 half, plus one free throw in two attempts.
No matter. Millender scored 23 of her game-high 24 points in the second half, including 12 of Marian's 14 points in overtime, as the Times No. 2 Spartans escaped the Class 4A Bloom Sectional with a 67-62 win over Oak Lawn. It marked Marian's 10th sectional crown in 13 seasons for the defending state champs.
Marian (26-4) advances to play Edwardsville (28-1), which won its own sectional with a 49-44 decision over Bradley-Bourbonnais, at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Illinois Wesleyan Supersectional. Oak Lawn finished the season 28-2.
"Ashton had a rough start — we didn't do a very good job of letting her get involved," Murray said. "She stepped up big in overtime. You could tell she wanted the ball, she wanted to make plays. … And she did a fantastic job of hitting clutch free throws."
Millender hit all seven free-throw attempts in the extra session. She also made both her shots from the floor, including a 23-foot 3-pointer to answer the opening bucket of overtime that gave Oak Lawn its first lead since late in the first quarter.
Oak Lawn trailed 53-46 with 1:26 to play in the fourth quarter, but LaTondra Brooks (23 points) nailed a 3-pointer and four free throws — the last pair with seven seconds left — to force overtime.
Millender's overtime trey followed another Brooks bucket to open the extra session. Brooks and teammate Jannah Mahmoud (16 points, 12 rebounds), along with Marian's Teniya Page (15 points) fouled out in overtime, leaving Millender as the only pure scorer on the floor.
Still, the deep trey was a remarkable shot for Millender to take, considering her first half.
"I guess it was just one of those days," Millender said. "I just keep shooting it, and talk to myself. I've got to stay confident."
Murray hoped Marian's difficulty in its 13th straight win would be a confidence builder.
"I don't think that's a bad thing," he said. "We haven't been in a whole lot of close games. Until tonight, our whole winning streak has been by double digits."
Marian, which has relied mostly on Millender and Page, got major contributions from Kauai Bradley (11 points, eight rebounds) and Dajhae Mullins (10 points, 13 rebounds).
Bradley had the only non-Millender points in overtime, hitting a pair of free throws, while Mullins scored Marian's first and last field goals of regulation, and rebounded the missed Oak Lawn free throw that could have tied the game with 13 seconds left in overtime.
"For a while there, I felt like Dajhae was the only kid we had on the boards," Murray said.
"From the beginning of the year," Mullins said, "coach has told us the only way we can lose is if we don't rebound."
Consider Millender's bounce-back second half Exhibit A.
MIDLOTHIAN | Not that an exclamation point was needed for T.F. North's first quarter against Bremen on Thursday night, but Sadiq Salisu provided one anyway.
His banked-in 55-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Meteors a 10-point lead and reinforced the idea that it would be his team's night.
T.F. North romped to a 59-23 victory over the Braves, and it was that close only because Meteors coach Tim Bankston took it easy on his South Suburban Blue lodge brothers after scooting to a 39-8 halftime lead.
"We wanted to get some momentum going into the playoffs," said Christian Johnson, who led the Meteors with 15 points. "We're playing hard right now. Everybody showed up (Thursday), and everybody played hard. We started the season a little rocky."
T.F. North's record is deceptive. The Meteors (11-11, 7-6) have won three straight, including Saturday's victory over Atherton in Saginaw, Mich., and would appear ready to give host Plainfield Central all it can handle when the Class 4A playoffs begin Monday night.
"We were just looking to continue our effort from the last three games," Bankston said. "(We want to) continue to play hard and continue to play defense hard. The trip to Michigan helped us as far as togetherness."
The cohesiveness of the Meteors is something that was missing earlier in the season on both offense and defense.
"I'm not ready to say we're ready to win a state championship, but I like what I see," Bankston said. "We've been so up and down, but the last three or four games, the energy level has been better. The kids have responded. I guess when you start to understand what you're doing, the game becomes more fun to you."
If the 18th-seeded Meteors get past Plainfield Central on Monday, Marian Catholic, the top seed in the Thornton Township Sectional and one of the Class 4A favorites, will be waiting for them.
"We can go deep in the playoffs," Johnson, a junior, said. "We're a young team, but we're seniors now. It's time to grow up. Everything we've learned, we need to keep it going as we go into the playoffs."
Bremen (8-15, 2-11) was led by Mack Holder's eight points.
GARDNER | St. Francis de Sales couldn’t complete a rally Thursday in the Class A Gardner-South Wilmington Regional semifinals against Dwight like it did against Illinois Lutheran two nights earlier.
Dwight proved to be too deep and had too many weapons for St. Francis to be able climb the mountain one more time and get to the championship.
The Trojans (21-9) took an early lead, broke open the game in the third quarter to post a 69-56 victory over the out-manned Pioneers.
“We don’t start playing with intensity until the fourth quarter,” St. Francis coach Jeff Sanders said. “We have to start the game that way. That was disappointing. It’s been that way most of the season.”
Junior standout Tyler Streeter said the Pioneers were a little nervous at the start.
“We weren’t intense enough,” he said. “We were kind of lackadaisical and we weren’t trying to be aggressive on offense.”
Streeter, who erupted for 31 points Tuesday, finished with a team-high 17 points and eight rebounds, but nine of his points came in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.
“They made sure I wasn’t getting easy points and easy rebounds,” he said. “They put a body on me and made sure I didn’t get any offensive rebounds at all. The played real good defense.”
After trailing 16-6 at the first stop, St. Francis (7-18) got to within 32-25 late in the second quarter, but Dwight took a 35-25 lead on a bucket at the halftime horn.
Dwight then took control of the game with a 6-0 spurt to start the third quarter. It took its biggest lead 51-30 midway through the third.
“They made a couple quick buckets, and we weren’t finishing on offense,” Streeter said. “We weren’t being aggressive.”
Dwight took a 55-36 lead into the fourth, and St. Francis would never get closer than the final count.
“Our guys are a little emotional,” Sanders said. “I think we got quite a few tough calls that were questionable. Once that happened we kind of lost our courage.
“That’s part of the game, but it should be a leaning experience.”
Dwight got 15 points from Triston Dircks, 14 from Caleb Boma, while Collin Irvin and Devin Connolly each had eight. Dwight went nine deep with its regular rotation, and 11 players scored.
Eric Rodriguez added 12 points for the Pioneers, while Kemari Simmons finished with 11.
“Our energy wasn’t good enough in the beginning,” Rodriguez said. “When we played Tuesday we had a deficit, but we couldn’t pull it off (Thursday). We tried our hardest.”
Have you seen the commercial about where Leroy falls out of his deer stand and someone asks what happened?
There is no punch line here, but another voice said that it was an earthquake. "Earthquake?" the voice shouted back. "But, we're in Illinois."
The commercial caught your attention. What happened in the last few weeks in local prep sports with the Homewood-Flossmoor girls and boys basketball programs was not an earthquake, but it did send shock waves around the state.
Both violated the Illinois High School Association's by-laws regarding the open gym policy. The girls team was thrown out of the tourney.
Athletic directors and principals sent out emails to spring coaches about open gym.
"We just wanted to make sure they knew the rules," T.F. South athletic director Marc Brewe said. "I talk with all my coaches about the rules before the season and especially about open gym."
Thursday, three schools were reinstated into the boys tournament. The teams were initially ruled ineligible by IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman on Feb. 24 after it was discovered that all three schools had violated IHSA by-law 5.04, which was exceeding boys basketball season limitations.
While principals, athletic directors and coaches can be the most careful about making sure the rules are followed, things can slip through the cracks. An administrator cannot be at open gyms 24 hours a day.
Former Thornwood athletic director Gary Lagesse said there may be a reason to add a monitor just to make sure the rules are followed.
"Maybe you need a compliance person at the high school that stays on top of everything," Lagesse said. "It has become so sophisticated. Colleges have them. It might not be a bad idea."
It might not, but remember, something can still slip through the cracks as it does at the collegiate level. A compliance person does not see a gray area. He or she sees it as a black line that you do not cross.
Four years ago, the T.F. North and Thornwood boys basketball teams had a similar situation with some Chicago Public League schools. The schools had a Sunday "open gym" at T.F. North during the regular season. A clear violation. The coaches and players were given a one-game suspension.
Lagesse did not know of the scrimmage at first, but when he found out he turned his school in. He also said high school sports have become big.
It might be harder for the smaller schools to do it and it would add another cost to a school district's budget. Marian athletic director Dave Mattio said it could be a good idea if the school and coaches buy into it.
"It (high school sports) is becoming bigger and bigger," Mattio said. "It is hard to keep up with it, but you have to talk to your coaches and make sure they know the rules and follow them."
The Thornwood boys basketball team clinched the SouthWest Suburban Red title with a win over Lincoln-Way North on Tuesday.
A win tonight over Lincoln-Way West would give the Times No. 2 Thunderbirds a 14-0 conference record.
"I'm proud of my team for accomplishing one of our many goals this season," Thunderbirds coach Paul Slavich said.
Thornton gearing up: Thornton boys basketball coach Troy Jackson said to expect a tough one tonight when Bradley-Bourbonnais comes to Harvey.
"We expect a challenge, and we will have to be ready," Jackson said. "We want to go into the playoffs on a winning note."
Times No. 4 Thornton won 77-67 in Bradley on Jan. 31.
"We have to come out and play well from the start," Thornton forward Justin Taylor said. "We have to control the boards and play defense like we have all year."
A tall order ahead: Coming off back-to-back losses against Lemont and Crete-Monee, T.F. South is looking to right the ship tonight against Hillcrest. With the loss to Lemont on Feb. 21, the Rebels knocked themselves out of contention for a South Suburban Blue Conference title. T.F. South is 9-3 in conference play and will face conference leaders Hillcrest with a shot at second place on the line.
"We've got to pick ourselves up and move on," Rebel coach John O'Rourke said. "There's a lot riding on (tonight's) game against Hillcrest which is a phenomenal program. If we don't come out to play, it's going to be a very long night."
Crete to get defensive: With the tournament starting next week, Crete-Monee coach Tom Cappel and forward Mike Nelson agree on the main area where the Warriors need to improve: defense.
"We have to clear up some defensive things," Cappel said. "They just need to keep playing hard. We're playing harder now. We'll be ready."
Crete-Monee opens tournament play at 8 p.m. Monday in the 4A Bloom Township Regional, where it faces Lincoln-Way East.
"We need to pick up our defense," Nelson said. "We have offensive players, and we can score the ball. We just need to pick it up at the defensive end."
A good season: Moments after the Mount Carmel wrestling team lost 44-18 to Marmion Academy on Tuesday at the Class 3A Marist Team Sectional, Caravan coach John Kading praised his team.
"You pushed yourself to get better and really worked hard," Kading said. "I am really proud of you. Seniors, you stepped up as leaders. The underclassmen, you know what you have to do get better and I know you will.
"I am really proud of you guys the way you represented Mount Carmel."
The road to this week’s Illinois High School Association state swimming and diving finals started a long time ago for a local pair of athletes.
Both Marian Catholic diver Joey Cifelli and Homewood-Flossmoor swimmer Jakobi McClellan have been in the water since they both could walk.
From a young age, Marian's Cifelli loved heights, jumping off things and the water.
Because of that love -- and for her son’s safety -- Cifeli's mother decided that it was time to get him involved in swimming and diving.
“I started swimming when I was little,” he said. "I was also a daredevil. When I was (9 years old), my mom thought that I should try diving so I wouldn’t get killed jumping off of things.”
Cifelli started taking diving classes at Homewood-Flossmoor’s pool that year. By the next year, he was promoted to a class full of high school students.
By his freshman year at Marian Catholic, he decided that he wanted to take his training to another level and dive competitively.
For many high school athlete’s that would mean going out for the school team and giving it your all for three months during the season, then moving on to another sport when the weather changes.
Not Cifelli. While he will represent the Spartans in this weekend’s IHSA state finals in Evanston, he decided to make the sport a full-time commitment.
Cifelli trains year-round as part of the Windy City Diving team at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
“I really didn’t get serious about it until my freshman year,” he said. “Now I train six days a week with coach Susan Bromberg at UIC. I want to compete at a national level and get to the U.S. Olympic trials."
But hoping to be an Olympian hasn’t lessened the meaning of competing for a state title Saturday.
“Competing against the best divers in the country showed me what I need to do every day,” Cifelli said. “This is really exciting; state is the best place to be. I know the top 12 guys from competing at regional and national competitions, so this weekend I get to see a lot of friends.”
Coming into the meet Cifelli is the favorite to take home the title after finishing second last year and posting the top score in the state at last week’s Homewood-Flossmoor Sectional
McClellan’s story is very similar as their son’s safety was a major factor in his parents getting him into swimming.
“When I was a toddler, I would jump into my cousin’s swimming pool,” said McClellan, who won the 100 back title at sectional. “To make sure I didn’t drown, my parents put me in swim lessons right away. I loved it. From there, I went on to the H-F swim club and now I’m here on the team.”
McClellan will face a tough road to a state title, but he believes that his coaching and the support of his teammates can see him through.
“It means a lot getting here, again,” McClellan said. “I was there on a relay my freshman year, so it’ll be different being there as an individual."
Kenny Bates' triple-double helped the Thornwood boys basketball team clinch the SouthWest Suburban Red title with a 78-50 win over Lincoln-Way North on Tuesday.
Bates had 11 points, 16 rebounds and 11 blocks for the Thunderbirds (21-4, 13-0).
Rashaad Alexander scored 23 points, while Kaliph Fagan added 14 points.
Thornridge 46, Andrew 41: Darrion Robinson's double-double of 14 points and 14 rebounds led the visiting Falcons (8-17, 5-8) to a SouthWest Suburban Red win over the Thunderbolts.
Leeshaun Evans added three steals and three assists.
Homewood-Flossmoor 56, Sandburg 53: It should have been a cakewalk the way Homewood-Flossmoor's Tai Odiase was playing.
The Illinois-Chicago-bound senior scored 18 points and grabbed five rebounds in the first half against Sandburg, staking the Vikings to a 19-point lead.
The Eagles struck back in the final quarter, and H-F had to sweat out a SouthWest Conference Blue win.
It was the second triumph of the day for H-F (13-11, 8-3). In the afternoon, the IHSA ruled the Vikings could play in the Class 4A playoffs, which begin next week.
Odiase finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and a steal, playing the better part of three quarters with a mask to protect his swollen, though not broken, nose.
"I thought it was getting in the way of my seeing the ball and getting rebounds," Odiase said of discarding the mask.
Reminded of his 10-of-15 shooting night, he said he'll wear it at the start of H-F's next game, Friday against Lincoln-Way East.
"He did an excellent job on the defensive end, especially on the glass," coach Jim McLaughlin said of Odiase.
He was the only H-F player with more than nine points.
Sandburg (9-16, 5-8) was led by Eric Straka's 14 points. -- Tim Cronin
Thornton 55, Lincoln-Way Central 44: The Wildcats improved to 18-5 overall and 11-2 in the SouthWest Suburban Red.
T.F. North hires Watson: The District 215 school board hired Richard Watson as T.F. North's football coach at Tuesday's meeting.
Watson replaces Artie Rogers, who stepped down after the 2013 season.
CHICAGO HEIGHTS | The sequence might have gone unnoticed by many, but not by Marian Catholic's Spartans.
The Times' No. 2 squad, playing a team it had beaten by 30 to open the season, trailed Lincoln-Way East after the first quarter of their Bloom Township Class 4A Sectional semifinal. After finally knotting the score at 26 with 3:12 to play in the half, Marian's defense then frustrated the Griffins for 58 seconds, denying their outside shooters and sealing off the lane, until East turned the ball over on a traveling call.
"That's the best feeling in the world," Spartans guard Gabby Cooper said.
"It was a big momentum boost," Marian coach Dan Murray said. "To be honest, Lincoln-Way outplayed us most of the first half. That enabled us to take a lead into halftime. That was huge."
Eventually, Marian (25-4) posted a 61-51 win to advance to Thursday's title game opposite Oak Lawn (28-1), a 61-56 winner over Marist. Marian will play for its 10th sectional crown in 13 years, Oak Lawn for its first in school history.
Murray knows better than to count his chickens — despite many in his orbit doing just that when top-seeded Homewood-Flossmoor was banned from post-season play one hour before its regional opener by the Illinois High School Association.
"When the Flossmoor situation occurred, everyone said they thought (Marian vs. H-F) was what the sectional final was going to be," he said. "In know way, shape or form did we assume that. We knew it wasn't going to be easy to get past Lincoln-Way East. They played toe-to-toe with H-F for a reason. That's an exceptional basketball team."
The Griffins (24-4) outscored Marian 14-3 over the final 3:30 of the first quarter to lead 20-16 heading into the second. They hit 6-of-10 3-pointers in the first eight minutes, four of their shooters getting in on the act.
They'd make 10 3-pointers on the evening, Kara Krolicki and Dana O'Grady each hitting three on the way to sharing team scoring honors with 15 points apiece. Teammate Claire McMahon added two en route to 10 points.
Marian's mainstays, Teniya Page and Ashton Millender, finished with 20 and 16 points respectively. But in the first half, Page was 3-of-11 from the floor and Millender wasn't getting her usual number of touches.
"They were really prepared for us, and did some things to take away things we like to do," Murray said. "But, we adjusted well — and we advanced. At this stage, that's what matters."
Marian pulled away in the third, Cooper hitting a pair of 3-pointers, and Millender and Page scoring seven points each to build a 54-41 advantage heading into the final period. A nearly five-minute stretch without a point shaved that to 56-51 with 2:45 to play, but Page hit a pair of free throws, a hanging jumper in the lane and 1-of-2 freebies in the final 2:03 to seal the win.
GARDNER | It’s one-and-done come tournament time.
Illinois Lutheran found out the hard way Tuesday night in a first-round game against St. Francis de Sales at the Class A Gardner-South Wilmington Regional.
Lutheran couldn’t hold a big first-quarter lead over de Sales and lost 59-56 in overtime.
“It was a heartbreaker,” senior guard Mack Newson said. “To lose that game, killed us. It killed me.
“I had a great time. It was a bunch of fun guys to be around, and I wouldn’t trade any of ’em for the world.”
Sam Geraci finished with 19 points for the Chargers (14-6), while Collin Borns added 16 points and six rebounds. Newson finished his stellar career with 15 points.
“In the second half of the season, Sam really brought a lot of offense to us; he showed it again (Tuesday),” coach Mark Kjenstad said. “His offense was a big reason why this game was as close as it was.”
St. Francis de Sales (7-17) opened the third quarter with an 11-0 run to take its first lead of the game at 34-31. Newson scored four points and Borns added a bucket to get Lutheran within 42-40 after three quarters.
The lead changed hands three times in the fourth, and the game was tied at 49-49 at the end of regulation.
Tyler Streeter scored five of his game-high 31 points in the extra session to give de Sales the edge.
A desperation three-quarter court heave by Geraci at the buzzer caught only iron.
“We were playing so hard the whole game; it just didn’t turn out our way,” Geraci said. “Overtime is playoff is a big thing. Who expects to go in overtime in playoffs?
“They hit their shots.”
Lutheran jumped out to a 15-2 lead after one quarter, but St. Francis kept chipping away in the second quarter.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” Kjenstad said. “You don’t win a game in the first quarter.”
Streeter scored 10 points in the second and closed the deficit within five points on three separate times, the last being 28-23.
Geraci drained a 3-pointer just before the halftime horn for a 31-23 lead.
“Their athleticism gave us problems,” Kjenstad said. “They started pressuring us, and it took us a while to figure out how to beat the pressure. … Once we let our point guards bring it up, we had more success.”
St. Francis de Sales advanced to Thursday’s semifinal against Dwight, which eliminated Grant Park 58-47.
CRETE | Crete-Monee's Mike Nelson certainly took coach Tom Cappel's advice early in Tuesday night's matchup against T.F. South.
Nelson responded to an early benching and talk by Cappel and finished with a game-high 23 points to lead the Warriors to a 63-50 win over the Rebels. He scored 14 in the second half.
Tyler Williams added 14 points for Crete-Monee, and center Rashad Lee chipped in nine points and 12 rebounds.
"The first quarter I started off slow and coach took me out of the game," Nelson said. "He said pick it up. Coming off of the loss against Bloom, we wanted to start off strong."
The Warriors (14-11) led by five heading into the half and opened up a seven point lead after three quarters. In the fourth quarter, both defenses struggled to make stops, and the game was marred by fouls.
Crete-Monee played again without starting forward Brandon Johnson, who is academically ineligible. The Warriors will find out Friday if Johnson is able to return this season.
"A win is a win," Cappel said after the game. "I'd rather play ugly than lose it. I'm proud of the kids. Nelson played terrific. We hope we're starting to gel, getting ready for the tournament."
T.F. South (12-13) was unable to find a rhythm offensively and struggled to hit shots against the Warriors' 2-3 zone. Donald Stone came off the Rebel bench to lead the team with 14 points. Ka-Ton Mays added 13 points and four steals for T.F. South.
"No energy, no hustle, no heart," Rebels coach John O'Rourke said after the loss. "You can have the best plays in the world, but if you don't have guys out there working together, it's just five individuals on the floor."
Wednell Daniels and Jamahre Baker each finished with eight points for T.F. South. O'Rourke said after the game that his team may still be reeling from a tough South Suburban Blue loss last Friday night to Lemont.
"What I saw was embarrassing," O'Rourke said. "We had a terrible practice yesterday and more of the same today. I don't know if the guys are looking back to last Friday still and our shortcomings in that game, but tonight's poor performance was flat-out unacceptable."
CHICAGO | With his team already assured of a loss, it would have been simple for Mount Carmel sophomore wrestler Matthew Reyes to throw in the towel.
Reyes was in a close match with Marmion Academy's Oscar Garza at the Class 3A Marist Team Sectional on Tuesday and holding on for a win.
Reyes won the 285-pound match, 2-1.
"It would have been easy to quit and lose that match," Reyes said. "We had already lost, but I didn't wrestle very well at state and I had to win this match because I had something to prove to myself."
Marmion beat Mount Carmel 44-18 as Mount Carmel won just four matches, including two by forfeit.
"We needed some things to go our way, including winning the coin flip," Caravan coach John Kading said. "We won the coin flip, but they (Marmion) came out and took it to us. They are a very good team and they wrestled real well tonight."
Mount Carmel's other win on the mat was Connor Guzior's at 145. He beat Matt Ferraro, 7-6. At the time, it closed the Caravan margin to 23-9.
"I knew I had to get the job done if we were to have a chance," Guzior said. "Ferraro is a tough wrestler and I knew I had to wrestle hard and not let my team down."
The Caravan got within 23-15 as Class 3A 152-pound champ Bryce Brill received a forfeit. The Caravan's Yahya Thomas opened the match with a forfeit at 106. Brill, who wrestled his freshman year at Marmion, said he would have liked to have wrestled against his old school.
"I know all those guys and it is weird because I was their teammate a few years ago," Brill said. "We wanted to win, but give credit to Marmion. They came out and wrestled well."
The Cadets had four pins and two major decisions. Mount Carmel's Jacob Tucker lost a tough 2-0 decision to Mikey Callahan at 138. Tucker, who bumped up a weight class, got taken down in the first period and could not score.
"I knew we needed the win, but I just couldn't escape," he said. "I really didn't mind bumping up a weight because Callahan is a good wrestler and to be the best, you have to beat the best."
Mount Carmel's Jimmy Mickens fell 4-3 to Nick Traxler as Traxler got a takedown in the third period.
RIVER FOREST | Three times in as many years, Seton Academy's girls basketball team walked into the super-sectional — the last two at Concordia University — with hopes of a berth in the state semifinals at Illinois State.
Three times, the Sting has gone home to South Holland without a ticket to that semifinal game and the shot at glory that accompanies it.
Monday, the roadblock in their way at the Class 2A Concordia Super-Sectional was IC Catholic. The Knights scored a 40-38 victory despite the 21 points of standout Seton senior Ebony Bailey.
Seton ends its season 19-9. IC Catholic moves on to Friday night's game against Prophetstown with a 25-6 record and a 16-game winning streak.
Bailey, sniffling as she spoke, knew exactly what cost the Sting a downstate berth.
"I think it was our defense," Bailey said. "We started the game without enough intensity."
Seton was reluctant to force the issue defensively. That allowed the Knights to barge their way to a 17-9 lead after a quarter, and a 26-15 advantage at the half, the final points gained on Grace Vitek's wide-open 8-footer just before the buzzer.
It could have been a wider margin. IC Catholic, the old Immaculate Conception, missed a handful of easy shots and still led by 11.
"The second half, we went to the man-to-man and put on a bit more pressure," Seton coach Kevin Green said, questioning his reluctance to switch from a zone earlier. "They got too big of a lead. It was a tale of two halves."
Bailey scored on a drive, cutting the deficit to five points, to start the fourth quarter, and after Vitek (10 points) answered, sophomore Danielle Bailey, Ebony Bailey's younger sister, drilled a 3-pointer, trimming it to four points. Two baskets inside by ICC center Rory Manion (10 points, 12 rebounds) made it 38-30, but Seton had one push left. When the younger Bailey scored another 3-pointer with 3:12 to play, the lead was down to three points.
It stayed there until Vitek hit a pair of free throws with 39.3 seconds left. After she missed the front end of a 1-and-1 15 seconds later, Seton's Alfatinee Boyd dropped in a 3-pointer with eight seconds left.
"We figured on playing deny defense," Ebony Bailey said.
But the Knights got the ball in and the Sting couldn't foul, denying Bailey and her cohorts the trip to the championship weekend.
Given they've won 24 times in 28 outings, Alan Millender hasn't had many opportunities to see his daughter, Ashton, and her Marian Catholic teammates down this season.
But the elder Millender was floored by the Spartans' reaction Wednesday to the news that Homewood-Flossmoor, the state's top-ranked Class 4A team, was suspended from the playoffs by the Illinois High School Association.
"Oh my God," Millender said. "I've never seen them so disappointed."
The Vikings were the Times' No. 1-ranked team, while Marian, the defending state champs, were No. 2. They could have met in the Bloom Sectional title game on Thursday.
"They were more up to play H-F Feb. 27 than they were (then-defending state champs) Whitney Young in the state semis last year," Millender said.
As it is, the Spartans advanced out of the Sandburg Regional into an 8 p.m. sectional contest today against Lincoln-Way East at Bloom Trail. The winner plays at 7 p.m. Thursday against the winner of today's other semifinal, Marist vs. Oak Lawn.
Marian coach Dan Murray declined to comment on Homewood-Flossmoor. Of Lincoln-Way East (22-5), he had plenty to say.
"We think very highly of them," he said. "They've got some really good shooters. They've got size. They're extremely well-coached. It's going to be a difficult basketball game."
Murray also faces the task of getting his players to forget about their easy, 67-37 win over the Griffins in both teams' season opener on Nov. 19.
Defining the importance of that game as "little to none," Murray added, "Both teams have improved quite a bit. They're playing their best basketball of the year, and we'd like to think we're playing ours."
It might be worth noting that, in their last regular-season game, the Griffins gave H-F fits in what was eventually a 49-42 win. The game was tied with less than five minutes to play.
East is led by Kara Krolicki, a 45 percent 3-point shooter who averages 19.7 points per game. Claire McMahon, a 31 percent 3-point shooter, averages 9.0 points and 3.3 assists per game.
The Spartans are getting most of their offense from Ashton Millender (13.7 ppg) and Teniya Page (12.5 ppg).
"All teams, as the year goes on, get more efficient in their offensive sets, they run their offense sharper," Murray said. "Obviously, with me being in my first year, there was an adjustment period for us.
"The kids are a lot more confident now with what we're trying to accomplish on the floor."
Thurman Stone remembers a moment during the 1999 Indiana state wrestling regional.
The then-Calumet senior had pinned an opponent, but struggled with him.
His wake-up call was a talk he got from Calumet coach Jim Wadkins. He had Stone outside the Calumet locker room and challenged his 135-pounder.
"You're the toughest, meanest kid in school and you let him dominate you," Wadkins shouted to Stone.
"I remember he had some choice words about me not letting my opponent get the best of me," Stone said. "He knew what I could do and just wanted me to be the best.
"I was frustrated that whole match because every time I tried to get a single leg in, we went off the mat."
Stone answered the call and went on to win the 1999 state title at 135 pounds and he did so on Feb. 20 that year — his 18th birthday.
He beat South Bend Washington's Vinscent Minor, who handed him his lone loss a week before at the Merrillville Semisitate, for the title at Market Square Arena.
"At the time, it didn't sink in right away," Stone said. "I was proud and I just had to savor the moment. I remember looking at that medal."
Stone then took off into the stands at the downtown Indianapolis area, but was stopped on his way to the top.
"A youth coach asked me to talk to his group of little kids, so I did," Stone said. "It made me feel like a big shot and I could see how happy the kids were. I told them they could be up there one day (as a champ)."
He then was asked to address a group of young Munster youth wrestlers.
"They had a scrapbook with my articles in them and that made me feel like I was 10 feet tall," Stone said. "Eric McGill was in that group and funny, I coached most of those kids at Munster a few years later."
Stone and his twin brother, Larry, also a fine wrestler at Calumet, shared a bedroom. The two had a system for helping Thurman make his weight every week.
"We used to barricade the door so if I got up, it would make noise and Larry would wake up," Thurman Stone said. "He would get me back to bed so I couldn't have that midnight snack.'
Stone is a truck driver for Superior Construction and said what he took from wrestling was more than a state title.
"They say being a state champ won't get you a job or a raise and that is true," Stone said. "On the other hand, it does because the life's lessons and discipline you learn from the sport puts you in a position to be successful in life."
Thurman and Larry, who was a state qualifier, were two heavily followed wrestlers.
"People come up to me now and tell me they loved to watch us wrestle because we were so aggressive," Stone said.
He credits Wadkins and assistant Jeff George for pushing him.
"I really want to credit Jeff because he spent a lot of time working with me on my technique and making me a better wrestler," Stone said. "You don't realize it at the time, but those guys really cared about you as a person."
Growing up in Lowell, Jacob Tucker always knew he wanted to wrestle for the hometown Red Devils. It's what most boys from the rural community want and dream about.
Then, two years ago when Tucker had a chance to check out Mount Carmel, all it took was half an hour, and Tucker knew he wanted to be a part of the Caravan.
"I was real skeptical at first because I was set on Lowell," Tucker said. "I visited a half hour, 45 minutes, and when I came out, I knew I was going to go there. It's just such a great school."
In those two seasons, Tucker has developed into one of the Caravan's top and most consistent wrestlers. A sophomore, Tucker finished fifth at the Class 3A meet at 132 pounds, and Kading credits Tucker's acceptance of the year-round commitment to wrestling as the foundation for his success.
"There's no doubt he's doing a fantastic job," Kading said. "Every time he steps on the mat, he's learning a valuable lesson. His willingness to devote himself to the practice room has been the difference. When they really make the commitment and the sacrifice, that's how any young kid learns to develop."
The Caravan will wrestle Marmion Academy at 6 p.m. today at the Class 3A Marist Team Sectional. The winner advances to Saturday's finals at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington.
Tucker's daily schedule isn't for the faint of heart. He's up at 5:30 a.m. to catch a bus in St. John that takes him to Mount Carmel. Then class all day followed by wrestling practice, before the long trek home to Lowell where he arrives home every night around 7:30. It's a grueling schedule for anyone, let alone a high school sophomore. But Tucker is the last person in the world that is going to complain.
"It's all worth it," Tucker said. "I'm finishing up my second trimester and just trying to get my grades up."
Tucker placed second at the Class 3A Hinsdale Central Sectional, when he was defeated 1-0 by Marist's Ameen Hamdan. Late in 2013, Tucker recorded a first-period pin against Hamdan at the Al Dvorak Memorial Invitational and will look for a similar result if he happens to meet Hamdan again at state.
"He's a good competitor," Tucker said of Hamdan. "I'm hoping to run into him this weekend. I think next time it will be a little different."
Tucker wrestles in the offseason at Region Wrestling Academy at Calumet High School, but the first day of high school wrestling practice, Tucker is back with his Caravan teammates.
"After the season ends I do a lot of work with freestyle," Tucker said. "I work out in Indiana too. I feel like if I stay on the mat every month, every day of the year, it'll benefit me later on. I feel a big difference in the beginning of the season and here at the end of the season."
Illinois Lutheran senior Collin Borns knows the time is at hand for his fellow Chargers basketball teammates as the clock is winding down on their glorious high school hoop careers.
Borns and the senior-laden team would like nothing better than to punch the clock a few more times for at least a dozen more quarters of playing time.
“I think this is a great opportunity to show people what we’re capable of,” Borns said. “This is our last chance to make a name for ourselves.”
Five of the top six Chargers are seniors, including three players who started on last year’s 19-7 squad that fell in the regional championship game to Newark.
Illinois Lutheran would like to script a different ending to this campaign, but it won’t be easy.
Lutheran (14-6) is the No. 3 seed in the Gardner-South Wilmington Regional that opens tonight. Top-seed St. Anne is taking on Donovan in the upper bracket, while Lutheran plays at 8 p.m. Tuesday against sixth-seeded St. Francis de Sales in the lower bracket.
“Our regional is probably stronger than last year,” said Lutheran coach Mark Kjenstad in his 10th year at the helm. “And we got a tough draw — St. Francis de Sales, and then Dwight if we win, and then St. Anne.”
The Chargers aren’t looking past the up-and-down St. Francis de Sales, but their goal is to win the regional.
“We have to be consistent and do it for three games,” Kjenstad said.
Putting the ball in the basket hasn’t been a problem for Lutheran this season as Mack Newson, who’s scored more than 1,000 points in his career, is averaging 20 points per game and Borns is scoring 18 points per game.
“We’re trying to improve defensively, especially in the half court,” Kjenstad said. “Offensively, we’ve got some guys that can score, but that doesn’t do you any good if you can’t stop them on the other end.”
Kjenstad said the rebounding will be the key to improving the defense and making a run in the regional.
“Rebounding completes defense,” he said. “You’ve got to play good half court defense, but we still have to get the rebound.
“It was our strength last year, and it’s our weakness this year.”
Borns stands 6-foot-3, while senior forward Jacob Woldhuis is 6-4 and leads the team in rebounding with 5 rebounds per game. Senior forward Evan Herschel (6-2) and 5-10 junior guard Justin Schmidtke and Newon round out the starting five.
Borns said the key against St. Francis de Sales is “sticking to the game plan.”
“Definitely, we want to get a box out and keep them off the offensive board and on defense,” he said. “They’re really athletic so for us we have to try to limit their offensive boards, get the one-and-done on every opportunity.”
Kjenstad said St. Francis de Sales has his full attention. It’s had an up-and-down year and is on its second coach this season, but Kjenstad said it has the talent to win the regional.
Borns said senior sixth man Sam Geraci brings a lot of energy off the bench.
“We have a lot of different people who are capable of scoring double digits on any given night,” he said.
Kjenstad said the nine seniors on the team bring a lot of confidence.
“They’re hungry,” he said. “They were all there last year and know they can win it this year.
“I don’t think that effort is going to be an issue. We’re going to play hard. We’ll practice hard and be ready.”
One more time — at least.
“We know that we just have to be 1-0 every game,” Borns said. “That’s our goal.”
Seton Academy Sting (19-8) vs. IC Catholic Prep Knights (24-6)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Concordia University, 7600 Augusta St., River Forest
Advancement: Winner plays Prophetstown or El Paso-Gridley at 8:15 p.m. Friday at Redbird Arena in one semifinal.
Players to watch
Seton Academy — Ebony Bailey, 5-7, Sr., G; Mariah Cole, 6-1, Sr., C; Alfatinee Boyd 5-5, Jr., G; Danielle Bailey 5-5, So., G; Brittany Hardeman 5-10, Fr., F.
IC Catholic Prep — Chiara Gaudio, 5-6, Jr., G; Abby Radoha, 5-7, Sr., F; Erin Maloney, 5-5, Jr., G; Grace Vitek, 5-11, Sr., G; Rory Manion, 6-0, Sr., F.
Fast fact: Seton Academy is making its third straight trip to the super-sectional, while IC Catholic Prep won its first sectional since 1980.
Vance Johnson's 13 points and eight rebounds led the T.F. North boys basketball team to a 55-35 win over Atherton, Mich., at the Lumberjack Shootout on Saturday in Saginaw, Mich.
T.F. North jumped out to a 13-4 first-quarter lead and led 29-14 at halftime.
Johari Dix added nine points for the Meteors (10-11). Anthony Galvin had seven points. Christian Johnson had steals, and Dirk Jordan dished out six assists.
De La Salle 67, Mount Carmel 62, OT: David Nichols had a game-high 26 points before fouling out, but the Caravan (20-7) fell to the Meteors in the inaugural Catholic League tournament championship at Chicago State.
Gabe Grant scored 14 points, and Montana Byrd added 12 as Mount Carmel saw its 10-game winning streak snapped.
Boys indoor track and field
Thornwood Invitational: The host Thunderbirds won 12 events and the five-team meet with 182 points.
Joliet Central was second with 56 points.
Thornwood's Khalil Lightbourne and Dwight Johnson won two events each. Lighbourne won the 440-yard dash (57.6 seconds) and 600 run (1:22.99). Johnson won the 50 (5.52) and 300 (33.76) dashes.
Thornwood also captured the 880, mile and 2-mile relays.
Other Thunderbird winners were Antwon West (60 high hurdles), Jaelin Carter (60 low hurdles), Brian Smith (long jump) and Eric Maymon (pole vault).
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