Knights say good night
JCA tops Christian in postseason opener
A good Knights work went unrewarded last Monday night.
That’s been an ongoing occurrence for Chicago Christian during the 2013-14 basketball campaign. According to coach Kevin Pittman, the Knights “improved immensely since the start of the season,” but that had relatively little positive impact on the win-loss numbers.
But a 50-44 setback to Joliet Catholic Academy carried a little more weight than usual. Seeing as how it came in the Class 3A Plano Regional, it officially marked the end of the road for Christian until next fall.
The Hilltoppers went on to claim a regional championship on Friday, which made Pittman feel even worse. Prior to the Knights’ entry into the playoffs, he had declared the Plano tourney to be a wide-open affair, one that was there for the taking for just about everybody involved.
“That’s disappointing for the kids,” Pittman said. “I felt bad the [favorable] results weren’t there [because] I liked our game plan against JCA.
“You can take any game except the Montini game at the end of the year and rewrite the same story: This was a game we played well enough in stretches to win.”
One of those stretches was in the second period, when Christian (8-19) erupted for 22 points to shake off the rust from an uneventful initial stanza and stake itself to a 26-25 lead.
“It was a feeling-out process [at the beginning], but nobody wants to see that kind of basketball,” Pittman said, referring to the 7-4 first quarter that leaned the Hilltoppers’ way. “I told [assistant coach] Wally [Ottenhoff] it was going to end 28-16.”
Things obviously got better after that, but a three-turnovers-in-three-possessions sequence suddenly had the Knights reeling a bit at the start of the final frame. JCA tallied after each miscue to turn its 36-35 deficit into a 41-36 edge a couple minutes into the period.
But, unlike in some previous instances, Christian responded with a spurt of its own. Two Luke Boss steals aided the rally, as the thefts led to his own basket and a Blaine Wright 3-pointer. Trevor Wolterink contributed a putback and free throw to lift the Knights into a 44-41 lead.
Wolterink, who also collected a pair of rebounds during Christian’s mini-uprising, totaled a team-best 14 points for the Knights. One of five sophomores on the roster, Wolterink had been stepping forward in a more measurable even before his exploits versus the Hilltoppers.
“He’s been a big bright spot for us,” Pittman said. “Getting the ball inside to him is something we’ve gotten used to doing. Without Trev there the last few weeks, I’m not as positive going into the next year.”
Although the brief flurry had put Christian back in front, it couldn’t stay there. JCA netted an inside bucket and 3-pointer in rapid to succession to regain an edge and the Knights were unable to answer, as close-in shots wouldn’t fall for either Wright (11 points) or Wolterink. Christian also committed a late turnover.
Still, Pittman liked his guys’ refusal to fold in the face of the earlier adversity.
“I thought our kids showed a lot of character, something we might not have been able to do a couple weeks ago,” he said. “When you’re thrown into the fire often enough and get your backside burned often enough, you hope you’re learning something. If not, it’s kind of useless.
“This was a game of runs and game of swings, but we didn’t have that one play or one stretch [that made the difference]. To lose a game any other way would be out of character for us — it fits into the pattern we’ve seen all season.”
The Knights did enjoy one of their finest performances of the year as they clicked on exactly 50 percent of their shots launched in two-point territory. That success rate dropped precipitously when shooters backed up into 3-point range, but Christian’s 19-of-47 overall display still bettered the Hilltoppers’ 18-of-52 effort.
The Knights also committed two fewer turnovers, but JCA was superior on the glass by a 28-19 margin. Included among the Hilltoppers’ rebounds were 10 on the offensive end. Bradford Fitzpatrick’s seven boards paced Christian, and he also dished out five of his team’s dozen assists.
Fitzpatrick will be among next year’s returnees, as will sophomore center Jay Spencer, who fouled out against JCA with under three minutes to play.
“There’s definitely a hope for next year, but it’s not going to happen just because we’re a year older,” Pittman said. “We preached patience and poise the last seven or eight weeks of the season, but in pressure situations sometimes bad habits reared up. We need to be better in a few areas and we have to get to work on that in the offseason.”
Chicago Christian 4 22 10 8 - 44
Joliet Catholic Academy 7 18 10 15 - 50
Chicago Christian Scoring: Wolterink 14, Wright 11, Spencer 8, Fitzpatrick 4, Parker 3, Boss 2, Leo 2. Rebounds: Fitzpatrick 7. Assists: Fitzpatrick 5.