Area teams knocked out of playoffs
Stagg pushes Simeon to limit, Richards’ Chappetto coaches last game
Four-time defending state champions aren’t easily frightened.
Even when the program is populated by a large number of younger members, tradition and reputation trump all else. That’s what Simeon coaches were loudly reminding their players of during a late timeout in Friday night’s Class 4A Shepard Regional final.
But the Wolverines definitely had sufficient reason to be worried. Stagg, an opponent thought by most to be overmatched heading into the championship contest, had instead nipped at Simeon’s heels all evening.
And after the Chargers’ Nick Sims buried a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left, only one point separated the two clubs. That’s when Stagg boss John Daniels heard his coaching counterparts exhorting their athletes, and in the remaining time the Wolverines showed some mettle by blocking a shot attempt by Chargers standout Max Strus.
Simeon also had a bit of good fortune on its side, as 3-balls from Strus and Jeff Goral were off the mark. When the latter’s shot failed to settle into the cylinder, the Wolverines were able to escape with a 47-45 victory that netted them a 12th consecutive regional title.
The win was Simeon’s 30th straight in postseason play and definitely among its hardest to come by.
“I think Simeon knows who Stagg is now,” Daniels said. “We earned respect. I’ve never gotten so many congratulations from people after a loss.
“We played our hearts out and it was like a perfect team game. We had it right there and we almost did it.”
Not surprisingly, the Wolverines focused their defensive attention on Strus, who was coming off a 34-point explosion versus Richards in a semifinal matchup. Simeon guarded Strus with a box-and-1 scheme and never let the senior operate unencumbered.
“They respected the [heck] out of Max,” Daniels said. “They figured if Max Strus doesn’t score, nobody else can beat them.”
What the Wolverines might not have figured on was Strus’ ability and willingness to share the ball. While he was being held to nine points, teammates Goral and Sims were combining for 26. Each player sank a pair of 3s off Kevin White assists in the third period, which kept the Chargers (22-8) within 32-28 at the quarter break.
And something else benefited Stagg: Simeon’s refusal to apply much defensive pressure. Daniels had anticipated that happening and admitted the Wolverines’ size concerned him; when Simeon stayed back, the Chargers refused to force the action - the second stanza, for example, primarily featured Stagg holding the ball.
“They’re not pressing us and they’re not chasing, so their 6-7 length everywhere on the floor was not a defensive factor at that point,” Daniels said. “They allowed us to hold the ball and destroy the second quarter. What they did played right into our hands.
“Max wasn’t a factor [scoring-wise], but we were still in the game. Kids had their legs still because we really only played one quarter [at a regular pace] and we were getting more confidence. Our kids believed they could win — that was huge.”
A Strus 3-pointer had preceded the stall and the Chargers eventually attempted a layup after about a four-minute possession, but when that shot missed, Stagg failed to gain its first lead of the night. The Chargers never did inch ahead of the Wolverines.
They also never faded from view.
“Every time they’d get up by six or seven, we’d hit a 3,” Daniels said. “We weren’t going away and you could see them starting to sweat.
“The place was packed with a thousand people cheering for Stagg. The fans were into the game and the kids were feeding off the fans. It was just cool to see.”
Daniels thought the Chargers’ relative lack of size did ultimately prove costly, as five of Simeon’s eight second-half hoops came on putbacks. Included among those was D.J. Williams’ basket that snapped a 38-all tie and moved the Wolverines in front to stay.
“D.J. Williams was the difference in the game,” Daniels said of the University of Illinois recruit. “He’s a 6-7 guard, and his length and elevation make it impossible to defend.”
Although Simeon wound up having the final say, Daniels wanted his guys to fully appreciate the opportunity they had and how well they played. He had given them a moment between the first and second periods to do exactly that.
“The first part of the game was a track meet - we were getting a shot off in eight seconds and they couldn’t set up their defense,” Daniels said. “Max hit a 3-pointer, Kevin White had a couple of layups, and we were beating them at their own game.
“Our first-quarter huddle was pretty much them enjoying the moment. I told them, ‘This is why you play basketball,’ and I wanted the night to be fun.”
Given the choice, Daniels would have preferred not playing last Tuesday’s game because, in his mind, it was a no-win situation.
If the Chargers had lost to the Bulldogs, one of the best seasons in school history would have ground to a halt. However, there was no real joy for Daniels in defeating Richards, either, because one of his best friends was coaching against him for the last time.
Bulldogs leader John Chappetto had announced earlier that he would step down from his post after 12 seasons whenever the current campaign ended. That turned out to be Tuesday, as Strus’ 34-point, 10-rebound heroics were too much for Richards to handle.
Strus was only four points away from eclipsing Stagg’s single-game scoring record, but Daniels took him off the floor after Chappetto began subbing.
“Maybe I would have left him in if I was coaching against someone else, but I have too much love for the other guy [in this instance],” Daniels said.
Before exiting, Strus controlled much of the action as he scored in a variety of ways. Five 3s were included among his production, but so, too, were baskets netted in transition and drives through the lane.
“He was just in the zone,” Daniels said of Strus, whose 14 points in the second quarter helped the Chargers total 22 in all and construct an eight-point halftime edge.
“I felt they were the better team,” Chappetto said of Stagg. “Once we were down, we tried to press and they basically ran us out of the gym in the second half.”
That Richards (17-12) was able to stay close on the scoreboard was no small achievement, especially with neither of its two stars, center Josh Meier and point guard Dedrick Shannon, being a person of influence.
Meier was for a while, but foul trouble severely limited his court time and eventually sent him to the bench for good early in the fourth stanza. He finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds in a rather notable part-time performance. As for Shannon, his trouble was errant shooting - he did not sink any of his nine field-goal attempts and collected just one point as Sims constantly hounded him on defense.
“Every big win we did have, he played great,” Chappetto said of Shannon, who distributed six assists in a losing cause.
Sims also ruined the Bulldogs’ last real chance at a late rally when he drilled a 3-pointer to stretch the Chargers’ lead back out to nine in the fourth quarter.
“I was really impressed with Sims,” Chappetto said. “I like how he plays. He scores and he’s kind of their glue guy. He had nine points in the second half and they all seemed big.”
“He was our MVP last week,” Daniels said of Sims.
Sims and White both dropped in 11 points for Stagg, and the latter also passed out seven assists. Kolpak led the rebounders with five. Spencer Tears scored 18 points to pace the ‘Dogs and Thaer Othman gave them a third double-digit man with 15 points.
Chappetto walked away from his last game as coach in surprisingly good spirits.
“The emotional sad part - a lot of that happened [the] Friday [before against Eisenhower],” he said. “There were parts of me that were excited, parts that were disappointed that it ended as soon as it did, parts that were happy and parts that were sad.
“I tried to keep it light [with Daniels]. My last game, he shouldn’t feel bad about that - we didn’t schedule this on purpose. They had a better team and more to lose, and maybe knowing where I was heading took a little of the edge off [us losing].”
The Bulldogs cruised into their semifinal matchup with Stagg by crushing the Crusaders in a play-in game last Monday. Meier’s 11 points fueled a 23-point outburst for Richards in the opening stanza, and the lead continually ballooned from there.
Chappetto thought Kennedy “played with a lot of spirit,” but that wasn’t enough to keep the Crusaders in contention. The Bulldogs - who were ahead by 28 points at intermission and 42 after three periods - shot over 50 percent while holding Kennedy well under 30, owned a decisive 41-21 advantage on the glass and forced 27 turnovers.
Eleven different players made at least one swipe for Richards, which amassed 23 thefts as a team. The Bulldogs had 12 scorers in all, with Jordan Cottrell (12 points) and Shannon (10 points, eight assists) both joining Meier (13 points) in double digits. Marcus Burton led the rebounders with 10 boards.
“I think this is exactly what we needed,” Chappetto said. “Our Friday night game with Eisenhower [three days before] was this emotional, packed-crowd game, [so] we weren’t really looking for a test. My whole thing was, let’s get this thing over as soon as we can and get our starters some rest.
“Every two or three minutes, we were throwing four new guys, or five, in. The scouting reports on [Kennedy] weren’t very flattering, but we had some guys who didn’t want to take them seriously. Once we found guys that wanted to play, we were able to do some things we wanted.”
Knowing Simeon was waiting in the wings, the Astros generated as much positive momentum as they could last Monday night as they steamrolled the Greyhounds in a play-in contest.
With Darren Cohen’s two steals and seven points serving as an igniter, Shepard removed most of the drama right away as it netted 22 of the game’s first 27 points, which handed it a huge lead to protect for the rest of the evening. And protect it the Astros did.
Hubbard never got so completely outclassed again, but it couldn’t make up all the ground it lost at the outset. That’s because Shepard (11-17) outscored the Greyhounds in each of the remaining quarters as well.
“We wanted a fast start, but that was really good,” Astros coach Tony Chiuccariello said. “Offensively, we were driving to the basket or getting the ball inside. Defensively, we did a nice job of picking up in the full court and pressuring their guards, and we got into our gaps in the quarter court.”
The result of Shepard’s aggressiveness without the ball was 22 Hubbard turnovers, which worsened an already-bad scenario for the Greyhounds. When they weren’t mishandling the ball, they were misfiring it - Hubbard concluded the evening with a field-goal percentage of just 31.
The Astros, meanwhile, committed 10 fewer miscues and produced perhaps their top shooting performance of the year as they clicked on 51 percent of their field-goal attempts. They also registered 18 assists and out-rebounded the Greyhounds 33-27.
Kyle Longfield (17 points), Jacob Littleton (16 points, four assists, three steals) and Cohen (12 points, three steals) led the Shepard assault, but no one really was left out.
“Everybody pretty much got in during the first half,” Chiuccariello said. “And everyone got to take at least one shot.”
Hubbard’s only notable was Deronte Reynolds, who accounted for 26 of its 41 points.
The going was much tougher for the Astros last Tuesday, as they fell behind the Wolverines 9-0 at the start and never found their footing. Shepard was down by 12 points at the period break and 27 by intermission.
“It was a two-pronged effect,” Chiuccariello said of the lopsided nature of the score. “They were really good and, unfortunately, we didn’t play very well. They were in a 1-2-2 zone. We’ve seen it numerous times this year, but we just didn’t hit shots.”
Chiuccariello thought the Wolverines’ reputation may have preceded it.
“We talk about respecting everyone, but fearing no one,” he said. “We respected Hubbard, but in my opinion we were a little timid and indecisive about where to go next [versus] Simeon.
“We talked about leaving everything on the floor, but it wasn’t the normal aggressiveness [we showed]. That led to us not shooting well.”
While the Wolverines were firing away at a blistering 57 percent clip, the Astros settled for a 29 percent success rate. With 25 turnovers and a 35-18 shortage on the boards also factored in, Shepard found itself in deep trouble.
And Simeon kept its foot on the gas pedal for most of the second half, even though its lead stood at 33 points by the end of the third stanza. Chiuccariello was less than thrilled by that occurrence, seeing as how “there was no threat” to the Wolverines’ well-being.
Littleton tossed in 12 points for the Astros, but none of his teammates joined him in double figures. Yakov Witherspoon tallied nine points, Cohen had eight and also equaled Littleton’s three assists, and Nick Heidinger supplied Shepard with six points and six rebounds.
The season might have ended with a thud, but Chiuccariello was pleased by much of what he viewed along the way.
“I’m proud of the kids’ efforts this year,” he said. “If you don’t have a lot of natural talent, you have to work hard on your skills and playing as a team. They put their time in during the offseason and gave all they had.”
Stagg 11 3 14 17 - 45
Simeon 13 4 15 15 - 47
Stagg Scoring: Goral 14, Sims 12, Strus 9, White 7, Kolpak 3. Rebounds: Strus 8, Kolpak 6. Assists: White 8.
Richards 10 11 19 17 - 57
Stagg 7 22 17 20 - 66
Richards Scoring: Tears 18, Meier 16, T. Othman 15, Draper 3, Catledge 2, Hussein 2, Shannon 1. Rebounds: Meier 10. Assists: Shannon 6.
Stagg Scoring: Strus 34, Sims 11, White 11, Stratinsky 4, Contant 2, El Hannouny 2, Goral 2. Rebounds: Strus 10, Kolpak 5. Assists: White 7.
Kennedy 8 8 5 8 - 29
Richards 23 21 19 17 - 80
Richards Scoring: Meier 13, Cottrell 12, Shannon 10, Tears 8, Burton 6, Catledge 6, Williams 6, Alexander 5, Draper 5, Hussein 4, Connor 3, T. Othman 2. Rebounds: Burton 10. Assists: Shannon 8. Steals: Catledge 4.
Hubbard 5 11 11 14 - 41
Shepard 22 13 13 21 - 69
Shepard Scoring: Longfield 17, Littleton 16, Cohen 12, Lawson 6, Haxel 4, Heidinger 4, Fitzgerald 2, Gorski 3, Smith 2, Witherspoon 2, Harden 1, Ogungbemi 1. Rebounds: Heidinger 8. Assists: Heidinger 4, Littleton 4, Witherspoon 4. Steals: Cohen 3, Littleton 3.
Shepard 6 9 12 13 - 40
Simeon 18 24 18 20 - 80
Shepard Scoring: Littleton 12, Witherspoon 9, Cohen 8, Heidinger 6, Lawson 3, Longfield 2. Rebounds: Heidinger 6. Assists: Cohen 3, Littleton 3.