Eagles soar past Chargers in Chicago
At an arena named after an airline, it was probably appropriate that the group flying highest was the one with wings.
The Eagles are only a nickname for Sandburg athletic teams, of course, not an actual description of roster members, but on Saturday at the United Center that moniker was dead-on accurate. In the view of Stagg coach John Daniels, the Eagles were definitely birds of prey.
And their quarry was Daniels’ Chargers. While Stagg and Sandburg have always shared the same school district, this season they have renewed acquaintances in a conference sense as well as all Chargers squads now compete in the SouthWest Suburban Blue.
Stagg did indeed battle the Eagles on pretty even terms, at least for a while. However, a decisive third quarter gave Sandburg a huge boost, both emotionally and on the scoreboard, and the Eagles went on to log a 59-46 triumph.
“It was a great experience and a great day,” Sandburg coach Todd Allen said. “I appreciate John taking one of his home games and having us down there.
“It’s always tough playing Stagg. They beat us twice last year, including in the regional title game, so I think our kids were looking forward to this.”
The Eagles (5-9, 2-3) entered the game with a record far below that of the Chargers (12-5, 2-3), as well as on the heels of two difficult losses. However, Stagg was licking some wounds of its own after falling short of Lockport at home the Friday before.
The Chargers appeared to be over that disappointment, as they tallied 17 first-quarter points and held leads at each of the first two period stops. But as Daniels pointed out, “it was a tale of two halves.”
And the second half definitely belonged to Sandburg. It seized control of the proceedings by going on a 22-9 tear in the third stanza, an outburst triggered by a pair of 3-point baskets from Niko Kogionis (22 points) and two three-point plays by junior guard Alec Martinez. Both of the latter resulted from putbacks.
“It was kind of methodical,” Allen said, referring to his club’s momentum-shifting run, “but we were able to maintain [a lead after that]. Everybody was a little anxious at the start and we were a little jump shot-happy, but once the initial awe wore off, we got down to business.
“Our guys listened well, did what we wanted to and followed the game plan. There were a lot of good contributions, so it was a great team win. It made for a fun night.”
Not surprisingly, Daniels didn’t share his counterpart’s level of enthusiasm, although he was quick to praise the Eagles for a job well done.
“There’s no excuses — Sandburg beat us,” Daniels said. “I thought Sandburg played well, and a lot of credit goes to [Niko] Cahue and Kogionis.
“Their two stars combined for 41 points; mine combined for 20. That was the difference.”
Cahue was the Eagles’ go-to guy in the early going, as his eight second-quarter points kept Sandburg close. However, the 19 points with which he finished didn’t represent Cahue’s only measurable input — his presence in the paint also caused Stagg shooters to often hesitate.
“Our kids wouldn’t attack the rim all the way,” Daniels said. “Every time we’d get in the lane, he’d be standing there.
“I’m a big fan of Cahue. He’s a big, strong boy, and he’s a better player than he was last year.”
Max Strus led the Chargers with 16 points, but only six of those came after intermission. No other Stagg player reached double figures, and the Chargers’ other usual headliner, Kevin White, managed just four points while not registering any field goals.
The Eagles’ employment of a zone defense slowed Stagg’s progress after the first quarter, and the Chargers also hurt themselves by missing eight free throws. By contrast, Sandburg connected on nearly half of its 39 shots and went 16-of-21 at the stripe, with seven of the makes occurring in the last eight minutes.
“They’re a very good 5-9 team,” Daniels said of the Eagles, who committed only 10 turnovers. “They do good things. The only chink in their armor might be handling the press, but we’re not athletic enough to give them any problems with that.”
Heading into a busy week, Allen was glad to see Sandburg finally prosper after having “played well enough to win the last two games” but coming away empty against both Providence Catholic and Joliet West. After meeting Crete-Monee this past Monday at the Joliet Central Shootout, the Eagles tangle with Homewood-Flossmoor and Plainfield East on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Stagg, meanwhile, will try to regroup versus Argo and Joliet Central. The Chargers’ ledger still sits well above the .500 mark, but Daniels feels there is plenty of room for improvement.
“We’ve got a lot of games left and we’re good enough where we can get this thing going again,” he said. “[But] we don’t do the little things that make the difference. We’re missing that [Sean] Dwyer, [Mike] Scatena or [Steve] Kubiak type who’ll do that.
“I think of great teams as ones that embody what their coach wants. We’ve always had those blue-collar guys who said, ‘You’re going to have to beat us because we’re not going to beat ourselves,’ but unfortunately our early success [this season] has made some kids think that it’s not necessary [to play harder than opponents].”
Sandburg 13 9 22 15 - 59
Stagg 17 10 9 10 - 46
Sandburg Scoring: Kogionis 22, Cahue 19, Martinez 7, Straka 4, Ruzevich 3, T. Demogerontas 2, Paxinos 2.
Stagg Scoring: Strus 16, Gardner 8, Sims 7, White 4.