CHICAGO HEIGHTS | On the night their team secured a share of its third straight Southland Athletic Conference title, third-year Bloom Township varsity player Jared Johnson and first-year coach Ron Ashlaw would have to be content to disagree.
A 57-55 win over Crete-Monee, leaving No. 5 Bloom (15-8, 8-1) with a chance to claim the title outright with a win next week against Kankakee, earned little more than a shrug from Johnson, who led the Blazing Trojans with 23 points.
"It's not really that big to me," he said. "Honestly, we're trying to get far in the tournament. Our conference is not really that good. All the talent is in the playoffs."
Johnson has been part of that talent the last two seasons, playing for a Bloom team that was fourth in state when he was a sophomore and going to the Sweet 16 last season. But Ashlaw encouraged him to stop and smell the roses.
"I'm very, very proud of these guys," he said. "They've been on teams that have had a lot of success, but this is their time now.
"There's program, there's legacy, there's history. Every team has its place in that. We're trying to live in both of those worlds."
Friday at Bloom Trail, the Blazing Trojans first had to live through a surprisingly tense fourth quarter.
Trailing by 10 with 2:57 to play, the Warriors (13-11, 5-4) pulled within three points twice in the final 1:38, and within two on a bucket by Tyler Williams (16 points). Matching a career high he posted in Crete's previous contest, 6-foot-7 center Rashad Lee had 17 points, including six in the final three minutes.
"I'm proud of the kids for the way they played short-handed," Warriors coach Tom Cappel said. "We had nine guys dressed. One starter was out, two reserves were out."
The players were sidelined, respectively, by grades, behavioral issues and missed practices. With or without them, Cappel was hoping for another shot at Bloom.
"We might get them again if we get through the regional," he said. "That would be nice."
Not if Johnson keeps playing the way he did Friday. His points came on 10-of-17 shooting, including 2-of-3 3-pointers. He had 11 of Bloom's 16 second-quarter points.
"He had a very controlled floor game," Ashlaw said. "He's done that most of the season."
Mickhiell Harris added 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds, while Dalvin Echols chipped in eight points and seven boards. Mike Nelson had 14 points for the Warriors.