Photo by Jeff Vorva
Brother Rice senior Josh Niego gets a taste of the net after his team won its first regional title since 2008.
After Brother Rice won its first regional title since 2008, senior Josh Niego climbed the ladder under the west basket in the Homewood-Flossmoor gym and was the first to cut the net down.
After snipping some of the twine, he put it in his mouth.
So, what did it taste like?
“It tasted delicious – it tasted like victory,” he said.
Niego probably deserved steak or lobster after he and his second-seeded Crusader teammates beat seventh-seeded Homewood-Flossmoor, 57-50, Friday night in the H-F Class 4A Regional title game. Brother Rice (25-5) was scheduled to face third-seeded Thornton (22-5) in the Thornwood Sectional semifinal on Wednesday.
The 6-foot-4 senior Niego, who is still in the process of deciding a college to attend next season, scored 15 points in the final quarter Friday to help the Crusaders advance. He finished with 27 points and while some of them were tough, driving baskets, a few of them were a little lucky. His first 3-pointer of the game was a bank shot and it was a school-record 44th straight game with a trey.
After the Crusaders and Vikings were knotted at 39 after three quarters, Niego took a shot inside early in the fourth while being fouled. The ball rolled into the basket and he was awarded a free throw and screamed to the crowd with joy.
“The ball just slipped off my hand and spun in and it went straight in,” he said. “Sometimes you get lucky.’’
Even though a second-seed beating a seventh-seed on paper doesn’t sound like much, this was a dangerous game for the Crusaders. H-F (18-12) was one of the top teams in the state early in the season but injuries and losses mounted. The Vikings were getting healthier and, combined with the home-court advantage, there were some who speculated an upset was in order.
But Niego had other plans.
“I wasn’t going to lose this game,” he said. “I wanted the ball. We heard people saying they could beat us and we didn’t want that to happen.’’
Mike Shepski added 13 points for Brother Rice.
Second-year coach Bobby Frasor, a former star player for the Crusaders, said that regional titles were commonplace years ago and wasn’t used to long gaps without them.
“It’s been eight years between titles,” he said. “I have to credit the seniors – Mike and Josh – for this. They have been through a lot. They came to Brother Rice thinking they were going to play for coach (Pat) Richardson and went through a couple of different coaches. They have seen the history and tradition of the program and they wanted to be a part of it.
“It means so much to them. They etched their names in the record books and they will stay there for years and years to come. They are unbelievable senior leaders and they are just a joy to coach.’’