Eagles come up short in two more contests
Thirty-five years ago, the Eagles rock group hit the top musically with “Heartache Tonight.”
Last week, another group of Eagles reached bottom in a psychological sense, and the heartache was spread over two nights.
Sandburg’s sad songs on the basketball court actually extended beyond its two most recent contests, which ended in gut-wrenching SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue setbacks against Homewood-Flossmoor (56-53) and Bolingbrook (54-51) on Tuesday and Friday, respectively. Those dual defeats were preceded by several other frustrating finishes.
“In our last five games, we’ve been either winning, tied or down by one possession in the final minute,” Eagles coach Todd Allen said. “And we lost all five. I’ve never had a stretch like this — those are five really, really tough losses.
“The kids battled hard, so obviously we’re disappointed. That’s at least seven or eight games [this season] where, if one possession goes differently, we win. It’s challenging for everybody and a test to your character to keep your head up [through that], but you’ve got to hang in there.
“I can’t give our players enough credit. It’s been really difficult, but the kids are continuing to come to practice and working hard.”
While both of last week’s losses were tough to swallow, Allen was especially bothered by the one suffered at Bolingbrook. What made it stand out was that in the last seven seconds, Sandburg (9-17, 5-9) missed a shot near the basket and then committed a turnover.
The miscue came right after Allen believed one of his players had been fouled. The Eagles not only were deprived of free throws, but they were also not granted a timeout when Allen was frantically asking for one.
“I know they’re sometimes reluctant to call a foul in that situation,” he said, referring to officials. “But then give us the timeout and let the kids decide the game.”
Friday’s game seemed to pretty much be decided after the Raiders constructed a 12-point lead in the third quarter. But following a timeout, Sandburg rallied and got its deficit below double digits heading into the final stanza, then Niko Kogionis buried a 3-pointer on the visitors’ initial possession.
“Down six in the fourth quarter, you’re in good shape,” Allen said. “At that point, it’s anybody’s game.”
Kogionis wound up with 17 points to pace the Eagles. Fellow guard Alec Martinez tossed in 11 and Eric Straka totaled nine. Bolingbrook limited Sandburg forward Niko Cahue, its season scoring leader, to just five points.
The Eagles canned seven 3-point shots in all, two more than the Raiders, but the hosts totaled 20 buckets to Sandburg’s 18.
The Eagles were in an even deeper hole last Tuesday versus the Vikings, who rode center Tai Odiase’s 18 first-half points to a 38-19 advantage. H-F was ahead by 15 at the third-period stop and by that same margin three minutes into the fourth frame.
However, Sandburg players refused to wave the white flag. Instead, they proceeded to make a game of it, as improved defense caused a few Vikings turnovers and disrupted the visitors’ attack. H-F managed only one field goal over the final eight minutes.
“It wasn’t anything drastic,” Allen said. “We were just getting a few stops and converting at the other end. Other than Odiase, they didn’t have anybody score in double figures.
“We only played [well] in the second half, but when we finally started to play defense and hit some shots, [we became competitive]. We had said, ‘Let’s try to make it a single-digit game with under four minutes to go.’ We didn’t quite do that, but we kept whittling it down.”
Still, plenty of ground needed to be made up, and when the Eagles were staring at a 55-45 deficit with 1:50 left, it appeared as though their defensive handiwork would go for naught. But Straka, Martinez and seldom-used senior Mike Piazza all nailed 3-pointers in the late going - Piazza deposited four long balls on Senior Night in Orland Park - and the heat was put on H-F.
The Vikings’ edge eventually got shaved to two points. A free throw made it a three-point differential, but Sandburg still had a chance to tie — two, in fact, on its final possession, but it misfired both times from beyond the arc.
“It would have been a storybook ending, but we weren’t able to make enough plays at the end,” Allen said.
The Eagles’ comeback was engineered without much help from either Cahue or Kogionis. The two, who are averaging a combined 28 points per game this season, notched only 10 points between them. Coming forward in their place were the aforementioned trio of Straka (14 points, nine rebounds, four assists), Piazza (12 points) and Martinez (10 points).
“We had a lot of other guys step up for us,” said Allen, whose squad drilled 10 3-pointers on the evening
Sandburg met Eisenhower this past Monday in an opening-round matchup within the Cardinals’ Class 4A regional.
Homewood-Flossmoor 20 18 11 7 - 56
Sandburg 11 8 15 19 - 53
Sandburg Scoring: Straka 14, Piazza 12, Martinez 10, Cahue 7, T. Demogerontas 4, Kogionis 3, Manthey 3. Rebounds: Straka 9. Assists: Straka 4.
Sandburg 11 15 13 12 - 51
Bolingbrook 16 15 17 6 - 54
Sandburg Scoring: Kogionis 17, Martinez 11, Straka 9, Cahue 5, T. Demogerontas 5, Ruzevich 4, Vorva 2.