Crusaders fill in the blank in a big way

  • Written by Phil Arvia



Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice’s Mike Shepski shoots what turns out to be the game-tying basket to send Tuesday’s game into overtime, and the Crusaders won, 73-65.


Before Tuesday’s visit from neighborhood rival Marist, Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor said his team was in need of a “signature win.”

So among his three keys for the game with the previously unbeaten RedHawks — after “box out” and “compete” — was a blank line.

“I told them, we beat Marist, we come back in here and sign the board,” Frasor said. 

After a 73-65, overtime win before a packed house at Brother Rice, the Crusaders signed their declaration of relevance.

“We got that signature win,” Frasor said. “I kind of feel like it’s a statement that Brother Rice is back.”

If so, the Crusaders (16-3) got back on the backs of Mike Shepski and Josh Niego, who combined for 55 points. Four days after scoring 22 points in a 65-45 win Friday over Mount Carmel, Shepski had 29 and hit 6-of-8 3-point attempts on the way to breaking Sean O’Reilly’s career mark at Rice.

Shepski, who now has 197 3-pointers to O’Reilly’s 195, broke the mark as Brother Rice scrambled back from five points down in the final 40 seconds of regulation. At that juncture, he hit a 24-footer from the wing, and with five seconds remaining he banked in an off-balance leaner after faking one defender off his feet to force overtime.

Shepski calls those not-quite-textbook efforts “Dirk-like shots,” after inventive NBA big man Dirk Nowitzki.

“I try to be diverse in my shots,” he said. “But I wasn’t thinking about me being the guy to break the record, to make the big shots.

“Guys like Josh (Boulanger) and (Brendan Coghlan) stepped up for us and made some really big shots tonight.”

Coghlan had 10 points in regulation, taking and making one 3-pointer and each of the last three quarters. Boulanger converted a crucial three-point-play with 55 seconds left in the overtime after a driving Niego dropped him a pass on the low block, giving Rice a lead, at 67-65, they’d not relinquish.

That was after Niego (26 points) opened the extra period with a 3-pointer from the top of the key and a pair of free throws. Marist (19-1) rallied to tie on a three from Morgan Taylor (18 points) and runner from Maurice Commander (12).

Then Niego found Boulanger for a layup, the RedHawks’ Justin Brown fouling out while going for the block.

“I got bumped, I saw Brown coming out to block my shot, so I threw Josh the pass,” Niego said. “In practice I’ll drop them to him and he’ll miss. As long as he makes them in the games.”

Without Brown, who scored 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting and added 19 rebounds after scoring 17 with 15 boards in Marist’s 56-53 Friday win over Marian Catholic, the RedHawks went scoreless the rest of the way.

While the loss might impact Marist’s postseason seeding — both the RedHawks and the Crusaders are in the Thornwood Sectional — coach Gene Nolan was unconcerned.

“It was a game of big shots,” he said. “Our kids made some, their kids made more.

“Shepski and Niego are really good, they’re really difficult covers. We’ll get better for playing this game.”

In the immediate aftermath, of course, all the positives were flowing Rice’s way. Even O’Reilly, now a freshman coach at the school, was happy on the night his record fell.

“There’s no better scenario than this,” O’Reilly, a 2008 graduate, said. “Mike’s a great player, a hard worker, and I was 0-3 against Marist. It’s perfect.”

“Our signature win,” Shepski said. “One I’ve waiting for. I loved our team last year — we played hard, and we’d hang around — but we’d end up losing close games to good schools.

“This was awesome.”


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Marist/Rice is nice but about this Marist/Benet doubleheader...

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



The Brother Rice-Marist boys basketball game is usually one of the most intense and exciting events of the season, whether the game lives up to the hype or not.

It did Tuesday.

The two teams battled in front of a loud crowd at Brother Rice and you would be hard pressed to find a more exciting atmosphere in games involving area teams. Brother Rice pulled off the 73-65 overtime win.

But Friday night…

I’m not sure too many events can top a Brother Rice-Marist game but this event will give it a run for its money.

Benet Academy is hosting a basketball doubleheader against Marist with the girls game starting at 6 p.m. and the boys scheduled to start right after that.

That’s a lot of excitement in Lisle. Better than a Rice-Marist matchup? It has the ingredients.

Times two.

Some of these girls/boys doubleheaders have mixed matchups. You might have a really good potential battle followed by a dog. You might have a couple of dogs. You might have a couple of good games.

But this? I don’t know if I could hype this twinbill enough. All four teams are great and, while it’s just one game in the middle of a regular season, there are postseason seeds to plant.

Last year, Benet’s boys took second in the Illinois High School Association state tournament in Class 4A for the second time in three years.

Heading into this week’s action, Benet was 12-5 overall and 1-2 in the East Suburban Catholic Conference and has no interest in falling back even further in the league. It nearly beat Simeon in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament finale in late Decmber.

Marist opened the week 19-0 and was tied with St. Patrick and St. Viator at 3-0 for the league lead.

If that enough isn’t enough of a storyline, Benet has a kid named Jack Nolan, who last Friday scored 35 points – 25 in the fourth quarter!!! – in a 76-73 loss to St. Patrick.

He is the nephew of Marist coach Gene Nolan.

Fun stuff? You bet.

On the girls side, Benet is the two-time defending Class 4A champion and is steamrolling through most opponents in winning 17 of its first 19 games.

Marist opened the season winning 12, losing three and entered this week with a seven-game winning streak.

It will also be interesting to see what the Benet fans will have in store when the RedHawks come to visit.

At last year’s boys game at Marist, a good chunk of RedWings fans game and some students were lifting one of the smaller students up and down.

A few years ago, I was at a game in Lisle when the preppy-dressed-themed students decided to mimic Marist coach Nolan’s moves.

If Nolan put his hand on his chin, hundreds of students put their hand on their chin. If he crossed his arms, they crossed their arms. I’m not sure if they do that for every visiting coach, but it provided some laughs.

So, if you plan on going to either or both games, plan on having a lot of fun.

Girls/boys basketball doubleheaders rarely get as good as this.



Marist keeps streaking against Mother McAuley

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Marist’s Ally Corcoran, left, collides with Mother McAuley’s Hannah Swiatek during Monday night’s neighborhood battle as the RedHawks beat the Mighty Macs, 56-39.  

The way Marist’s Julia Ruzevich sees it, the rivalry game against Mother McAuley has the entire South Side buzzing.

“This is the date I always look forward to,” she said. “There is always a full house and everyone from the South Side comes down to watch this game. It’s an exciting atmosphere.’’

The Quincy-bound senior scored 20 points in her final regular-season game against the Mighty Macs in a 56-39 victory Monday night in front of an estimated crowd of 1,200 in a non-conference neighborhood battle at McAuley.

The RedHawks (17-3 with a five-game winning streak) outscored the Macs 29-16 in the second and third quarters to keep a comfortable lead in the fourth. Claire Austin added 12 points for the winners. Junior Tara O’Malley had 12 for McAuley.

Marist opened the season with a 12 straight victories before suffering a couple of setbacks down south at the inaugural Queen of the Commonwealth Tournament at Bullitt East High School in Washington, Kentucky.

After dropping a 58-57 setback to Male High School (the firth-ranked team in the state) on a buzzer-beater on Dec. 21, the RedHawks lost another close shave to Campbell County the next day, 63-59.

They came back home hoping to make some noise in the powerful Montini Tournament but was bounced in the first round by Proviso East, 63-58. Marist had to make that noise in the consolation round and thwarted its current streak by winning three games en route to the consolation title and opened the 2017 portion of the schedule with a 65-42 triumph over New Trier in the Fremd Shootout before Monday night’s game with the Mighty Macs.

“After that Proviso game, we had a meeting,” Ruzivich said. “We said ‘this is it – no more losses.’ We came out and won the next game and we’ve been winning ever since.

The schedule doesn’t get much easier for Marist as it faces Stevenson at the Subway Shootout at Willowbrook High School on Saturday and looming on Jan. 20 is a road game at Benet Academy, which has won back-to-back Class 4A state titles the past two seasons.

Meanwhile, McAuley (12-6) is in an interesting phase of its development. The team is filled with underclassmen with a high ceiling for the next couple of years. There are just three seniors to go with six juniors and four sophomores on this year’s squad and some of the younger players went through the wars of a 17-14 season in 2015-16.

Last season, the team went to Marist and took a 64-41 beating at the hands of the RedHawks in a game that wasn’t even that close. Marist had a 31-point advantage at one point before both squads emptied their benches and McAuley was able to eat into that deficit a little bit.


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: I'll side-step predicting if NU does the two-step in March

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


They have teased us before, so I am not making any bold predictions.

But two years in a row we have seen something we thought we would never see in sports.

In 2015, Phillips became the first Chicago Public League football team to win an Illinois High School Association state championship.

In 2016…well…you know. But in case you in a coma all year, the Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Northwestern, you are up in 2017.

The Wildcats men’s basketball team has never qualified for the NCAA Tournament.


Northwestern, the Citadel, Army, St. Francis Brooklyn and William and Mary are the only five longtime teams who have come up dry the third month each year. There are some newer teams—such as Chicago State—who have also been miserable in March but haven’t sustained the longevity of being on the outside looking in as the Wildcats have.

After opening the season with an 11-2 non-conference record, it was easy to be impressed with the Wildcats but they have had gaudy non-conference records in the past and haven’t shown much in the Big Ten season.

Entering this week, they have conference wins over Penn State and Nebraska but losses to Michigan State and Minnesota.

The way the conference is shaping up, there are so many winnable games that I am almost ready to declare this as the year the Wildcats break the 0-for-forever streak.

But I’ll wait and see.

They’ve teased us before.

 The next wave on the North Side

The Cubs have so many young players poised to be on the major league roster who could be around for so long that it seems like it will be difficult for the next wave of top prospects to break the club.

But baseball is one of those sports that is not exactly predictable and you never know when or why a spot will open up on the 25-man roster.

Moving up to the No. 1 spot on the Cubs’ prospect list according to Baseball America is outfielder Eloy Jimenez, a Dominican star who probably won’t be up soon because he is 21 and the Cubs don’t need any more outfielders.

He hits .329 with 14 homers and 81 RBI for Low Class A South Bend and led the Midwest League with 40 doubles and slugging percentage (.532).

An unnamed club official called him “a physical animal.’’

No. 2 on the BA list is Ian Happ, a 22-year-old second baseman/outfielder (good luck with that) who was drafted by Cincinnati in the first round in 2015. BA says “Happ hasn’t mastered a position yet, mostly because he’s not truly average at one.’’

The magazine also said The Cubs gave him plenty of reps at second base, where scouts see stiff actions, rigid hands and below-average overall defense.’’

But his hitting is supposed to be good so maybe he will be eventually dealt to an American League team.

On the hill, the top prospect is right-hander Dylan Cease, who pitched in Wrigley Field in an Under Armour event and has already had Tommy John surgery. In short-season play at Eugene, he was 2-2 with a 2.22 ERA.

A Happy New Year for Marist, Evergreen Park

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

DeAnna Stewart of Evergreen Park was named MVP of the Agricultural Science School Tournament for her scoring and rebounding but on this play on Friday, she wasn’t afraid to hit the ground for a loose ball against Bremen.


It’s been 25 years since Marist’s boys basketball team won the Centralia Holiday Tournament.

It possibly never happened that the boys and girls basketball teams at Evergreen Park won holiday tournaments during the same season.

In a dizzying and historic 24-hour period on Thursday and Friday, the area crowned three champions. Evergreen Park’s boys took care of business with an 89-74 victory over Perspectives-Calumet on Thursday night to win the 16-team Immaculate Conception Catholic/Westmont Christmas Classic. On Friday afternoon, EP’s girls beat Bremen 38-24 to finish 5-0 in the six-team Chicago Agriculture Science Christmas Tournament.  

Meanwhile, a few hundred miles south, Marist put the finishing touches on the wild end-of-the-week festivities with a 51-47 victory over Belleville West Friday night to win the 74th Centralia Tournament, but the game most Marist fans will be buzzing about was the Friday afternoon semifinal game in which the RedHawks (16-0) trailed by 12 heading into the fourth quarter but roared back for a 50-49 victory over Champaign Central.  Justin Brown’s block of a Central shot at the buzzer preserved the victory seconds after Maurice Commander bagged a pair of free throws.

Junior Morgan Taylor was the 16-team tournament’s MVP and became the first Marist player to claim that award since Gene Nolan in 1991. Nolan is the team’s coach and has now won a Centralia title as a player and a coach. Brown was named to the all-tournament second team.

Marist is one of the few unbeaten teams in the Chicago area and the 2017 portion of its schedule will be challenging with games with Benet, Brother Rice and St. Patrick looming. But after winning this tournament, the RedHawks should be confident they can play with the big boys.

Evergreen Park’s boys and girls didn’t play in high-profile tournaments, but they strung together an impressive stretch of victories that left the boys at 10-4 and the girls at 13-4 to help give them confidence for the beefy part of their South Suburban Conference. Both teams also have eyes on desirable seeds in the Class 3A postseason.

Girls coach Bruce Scaduto, who also coached the boys, couldn’t recall in his 19 years the Mustangs winning boys and girls holiday tournament the same year. Athletic Director Jim Soldan said he wasn’t aware if it happened before that.

The boys survived a 64-61 semifinal victory over IC Catholic with Michael Drynan scoring 20 before scoring 47 points in the first half of the title game. Drynan and Jonathan McDonald each had 19 in that game, tournament MVP Tyler Weathersby added 17 and Kyree Hannah 12.

“Tyler did a fantastic job and probably played his best game as a Mustang in the championship game,” Flannigan said. “It was nice to finally win this tournament. We’ve come close a couple of times.

“We’re hoping this will help with our confidence during a tough stretch of games against Lemont, Teutopolis, Oak Forest, Hillcrest and Leo. We keep telling them that we have enough talent in the room to make a run. Hopefully now they are starting to believe it.’’

Scaduto’s squad is miles ahead of last year’s 12-15 team and has a heavy load of juniors on the team. Senior DeAnna Stewart was named MVP and junior Kacey Gardner was named to the all-tournament team.

The Mustangs had to play two games on Dec. 28, two more on Thursday and one on Friday and gave up an average of 28 points per game.

“We played hard and well against Tinley Park (Dec. 16) and with a week and a half off, I wasn’t sure how we would respond,” Scaduto said. “We came out in this tournament and DeAnna came ready to play. She scored 20 points a game in this tournament and she’s a great post presence. With DeAnna and Kacey, we have a good combination going right now.’’

Stewart is receiving interest from small schools for track as she is a shot putter for the Mustangs. She is hoping to also pick up some interest in basketball as well and having this MVP honor won’t hurt her resume.

Meanwhile, she is hoping for a big finish for her team and said the team accomplished what it needed to at the Agriculture School Tournament.

“We wanted to come out here and go home undefeated,” she said. “We needed to stay focused and control the tempo.’’