Marist hoop teams make great first impressions

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 3 Julia 12 1

Photos by Jeff Vorva

Julia Ruzevich, here canning a second-quarter 3-pointer, hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the first quarter to give Marist the momentum in a win over Plainfield East.


There could be a hard road to get to the state tournament for Marist’s boys and girls basketball team in February and March.

But for now, it’s all about the hardware.

Both teams claimed Thanksgiving tournament titles on Friday as the boys won the eight-team District 218 Tipoff Classic at Eisenhower with a 66-47 victory over Richards in the late afternoon and about 90 minutes later, the girls won a 68-60 war over Plainfield East to claim its own six-team tournament hosted at the Mt. Greenwood school.

It’s the fourth time in five years the boys won the D218 tourney and girls coach Mary Pat Connolly said she thought it was the eighth time the RedHawks hosted their own tournament and the eighth time they won it.

In a few weeks, the Illinois High School Association is expected to announce its postseason assignments. In recent years, the boys team has been thrown in 4A sectionals with Chicago powerhouses such as Simeon, Curie and Bogan.

The girls, on the other hand, have been thrown in the sectionals with powerhouse Homewood-Flossmoor, which is stacked again.

But for now, the two Marist squads have a little time to enjoy their early season success. The girls season is in its third week and the boys in its second this week and they joined the Queen of Peace girls team as the only three undefeated squads from the area.

The boys mowed through their four opponents by an average of 28 points per game. In the title game against Richards, junior guard Morgan Taylor, who is also the quarterback on the football team, broke out with a 24-point performance. Maurice Commander had 12 points and Justin Brown added 11 including a couple of dunks early in the game to get the RedHawks going.

“We knew Richards was a good team and they came looking for a win,” Commander said. “But everyone on our team played their game.’’

Taylor said he is not sure if his future will be in football or basketball, but he is enjoying the early portion of the season so far.

“You don’t have 250-pound linemen coming at you,” he said.

But the RedHawks did have a pretty strong opponents coming after them in the form of Richards forward Jaylin Catledge, who is usually good for dropping 20 points on opponents, was hounded and double teamed and finished with 13 points for the Bulldogs (3-1).

“He’s difficult to defend but we did a good job,” Marist coach Gene Nolan said. “He can change a game.’’

The girls team trailed most of the first quarter to Plainfield East, but Julia Ruzevich (22 points) popped in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to knot the game at 20-20 and the RedHawks (5-0) grabbed the lead in the second quarter and never trailed.

Marist had several double-digit leads but Plainfield mounted several comeback attempts.

“This was the first year for them in this tournament and we were glad to have them,” Connelly said. “They have five seniors and they pushed us. They matched up with us well.’’

Claire Austin added 17 points for Marist. Austin, Ruzevich and Shepard's Cassidy McCarthy were named to the All-Tourament team.

Before the eight-point win, the RedHawks beat their first four opponents by an average of 35 points per game.

Thrillers for Shepard

Shepard’s boys team took third place in the District 218 tournament with a 64-63 victory over Chicago Christian. Joe Newhall connected on a pair of free throws with 1.3 seconds left to lead the Astros.

Earlier in the tournament, the Astros (3-1) picked up a 58-56 win over Eisenhower when Tamer Ashkar laid in the game-winning basket at the buzzer.


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Simeon and Morgan Park rivalry likely heading to Moraine Valley

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Food for thought for those who aren’t very hungry:

In January, the Simeon/Morgan Park boys basketball game that that was supposed to be played in tiny Morgan Park’s gym but moved down the street to Brooks was postponed because Morgan Park parents protested the move and threatened to keep their kids from playing in the game.

The story was so big that the TV news stations made it lead stories. Even Fox’s Dane Placko reported on the flack-o. The game was finally played a few weeks later in the Morgan Park gym.

In 2013, the two teams played a game at Chicago State University and a melee broke out after the game and outside the gym, a 17-year-old Morgan Park student was shot and killed months after there was a stabbing in the stands at Gately Stadium at a Morgan Park-Simeon football game.

And even when there isn’t controversy, it’s big news when these two traditional powerhouses play each other as future Division I players battle back and forth.

On Dec. 23, the two teams are playing each other again and this time it looks like it will be in Palos Hills. Moraine Valley could be the site for the big game.

Moraine Athletic Director Bill Finn said Monday that Morgan Park had not signed a contract yet but “we fully expect the game to be played here.’’ A time has not been determined. Two years ago, St. Rita and Simeon played at Moraine in an ESPN game at Moraine but Finn said this battle will not be shown on ESPN.

As long as tempers stay cool and there is no gunplay involved, this should be a pretty cool event.  While some may complain about the Moraine’s distance from the two schools, it just might be the perfect venue to keep everyone calm.

Who’s next?

Two weeks ago, Fenwick was wronged by officials in an Illinois High School Association football game.

Saturday, Michigan players, fans and coaches say they were wronged by officials in a big Big Ten game against Ohio State.

Who is next this weekend? An NFL team? Could it happen to the Bears and have them cheated of a third victory?

Naah…they are too busy being wronged by their own receivers.

Have a cigar

On the same weekend that Fidel Castro died, in Illinois high school basketball, Havana beat Cuba-Spoon River 47-14 in a tournament game.


Richards second and Chicago Christian third at Bolton; Shimko scores 1,000th point

  • Written by Phil Arvia

PAGE 2 TRIO 11 24

Photo by Jeff Vorva

From left, Chicago Christian’s Janay Turner and Jill Van Dyke and Richards’ Lesly Villarreal eye a rebounding opportunity in a first-round game at the Bobby Bolton Classic.


As host Richards reeled off three wins to advance to the title game of the Bobby Bolton Classic, four different players scored in double figures — and all were seniors.

Saturday, the Bulldogs fell in the championship to Thornton, 50-39 — but the silver lining was in the performances of its younger players.

Junior point guard Jada Clayton came off the bench to lead Richards (3-1) with 15 points. Junior forward Lesly Villarreal didn’t see the court until the fourth quarter, yet managed eight points on four-of-four shooting. Freshman swingman Halle Idowu scored six and, with Clayton, helped settle the offense.

“Early on, we didn’t handle their pressure very well — I didn’t think it would bother us as much as it did,” Richards coach Jeff Kortz said. “They got up, we got down, and we couldn’t pull ourselves up. But our young guards got after it a little bit.”

Clayton, a 5-foot-3 dynamo, was happy for the opportunity.

Her three free throws in the final 3:09 of the first quarter accounted for the Bulldogs’ only points of the period as they slipped behind 13-3. She had three more points and Idowu four as Richards trimmed its deficit to 19-14 at the half. And though Thornton (4-0) pulled away in the second half behind Maya Robinson (15 points) and Brea Blackwell (11), Clayton’s seven points and ability to find Villarreal for easy buckets nearly halved what had been a 21-point deficit with five minutes to play.

“I feel like I just stepped up and proved myself,” Clayton said.

After committing eight turnovers in the first quarter, Richards took better care of the ball the rest of the way, finishing with 24.

“Being a fast point guard, that’s a big thing for me,” Clayton said. “Getting through people is my biggest strength.

“I definitely learned a lot from our seniors. I feel like that’s where I get my game from — Stepanie Eklund, Jailyn Wilks, Shannon Meegan — definitely.”

Thornton won the Bolton title for the first time coach Erin Wright’s six seasons at the helm. The Wildcats’ 4-0 start is their best “in at least 10 years,” she said.

Taylor Ivory had five points and a team-high five rebounds for Richards. She also had 10 points in Richards’ second-round win over T.F. South.

Wilkes led Richards with 13 points and Davianna Jones added 12 in its opening win over Chicago Christian. Meegan led the Bulldogs in scoring in their next two wins, with 11 and 12 points, respectively.

“Four games in four days, some people were just beat,” Kortz said. “But we came out 3-1. I thought we played very well in two games, and in the two other games we found some things we need to work on — and we will.

“This is a good group. They play very hard and they practice very hard.”

Chicago Christian 38, Kankakee 29: Lexi van Ryn had 15 points, Janay Turner eight and Ciara Randle El five as the Knights (3-1) captured the third-place game. 

Oak Lawn 64, Thornwood 42: Madelyn McGrath’s 27 points paced the Spartans (2-3) in the fifth-place game.

Milestones and wins for Pride

Queen of Peace opened the season on Nov. 15 with a 65-37 victory over Oak Lawn and senior guard Kara Shimko became the third player in Pride history to eclipse the 1,000-point mark.

The Pride kept on winning the rest of the week with four victories in the Beecher Tournament to reach the title game.

Through five games, Shimko is averaging 17 points per game, teammate Ashley Lynch is averaging 10 rebounds per game and Jovanna Martinucci lead with 30 assists and 28 steals.

--Sports editor Jeff Vorva contributed to this report



Not in THIS house

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 1 6 AND CROWD 11 24

Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Laurence receiver Alex Saunders walks off the field Saturday while Sacred Heart Griffin fans and players celebrate a 28-16 victory over the Vikings in the Class 6A state semifinals.

SPRINGFIELD – Cyclone Stadium is aesthetically one of the nicest places to visit for football fans.

It was built in 2012 in an area surrounded by trees and nice scenery. The stands on both sides are new and spacious. The field has turf. The concession stand is huge and has a large TV so that customers waiting for their popcorn or hot dogs can keep an eye on the action.

But for opponents of Sacred Heart-Griffin, it is an ugly house of horrors and teams wearing the white jerseys leave there feeling lousy.

The Cyclones have not lost to an Illinois team there yet (they did, however, drop a 40-17 decision to Indianapolis Cathedral on Sept. 28, 2012) and it didn’t happen Saturday, either.

St. Laurence had a few “wait…maybe…’’ moments but dropped a 28-16 game in the Illinois High School Association Class 6A state semifinals. It’s the second time in a row the Vikings (9-4) lost in the semis. In 2015, they were beaten at home by Nazareth, 34-0, in a blizzard.

This time, it was sunny but windy and cold in the state capitol but the early part of the game the Vikings found themselves down 21-0. The special teams gave up an 87-yard kickoff touchdown return to Spencer Redd on the first play of the game to set the tone.

The Vikings, seeded 12th in the lower bracket, came back from deficits against fifth-seeded Richards, fourth-seeded Crete-Monee and top-seeded Lemont to register playoff victories and when they clawed back and trimmed the deficit to 21-14 and had the ball on the Cyclones 8, it looked like comeback No. 4 was in the works.

But on fourth-and-two, quarterback Romello Washington was stopped for a loss and the Cyclones took the ball and momentum back with five minutes left in the third.

“I called the plays and I’ll take the blame,” Vikings coach Harold Blackmon said. “I did not have my best game. I could have done more for these guys. I thought about kicking a field goal and I’m kicking myself for that.

“I take chances. I’ve taken chances all season and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. That’s just the nature of what I am. I felt like the play that we ran worked before and we didn’t use it for a couple of plays and I thought it would work this time.’’

“We didn’t get the yards we needed,” a dejected Washington said.

The Cyclones (who are 13-0 and racked up the program’s 600th career win) went on a 79-yard drive capped by a 53-yard Tim Brennieisn-to-Vince Mounce connection that two St. Laurence defenders appeared to have a bead on.

“I made a bad break by a half a yard or two…that’s football,” said defensive back Jimmy Burnette.

Washington threw for 273 yards including a 65-yard scoring strike to Levi Hamer.  Fayezon Smart had 19 carries for 40 yards and a 9-yard TD run. The Vikings scored two points late in the game when Springfield took an intentional safety.

Springfield faces Prairie Ridge (also 13-0) in the state championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

St. Laurence will get to think about another tough loss deep into the postseason.

“I love being the playoffs and I love being in the semifinals but in some aspects, losing like this is more painful than finishing 4-5,” the coach said. “You are right there. All you have to do is win a football game. This is the second year we’ve come up short.”


'Greedy' St. Laurence knocks off 6A's top seed to get to semifinals

  • Written by Phil Arvia

Page 1 ROmello 11 17

Photo by Jim Boyce

St. Laurence quarterback Romello Washington gets ready to fire a pass in an upset victory over Lemont Saturday in Burbank.

No offense to Rich Central, King and Tinley Park, the schools St. Laurence beat on the way to last year’s Class 5A state football semifinals, but Vikings coach Harold Blackmon was happy to see the murderer’s row of traditional powers in his team’s 6A path when the brackets were announced by the Illinois High School Association for this postseason.

“After the last game of the season, when we lost to (St.) Ignatius … the first thing I told our coaches was, ‘We need this bracket,’” Blackmon said. “Our kids need to be challenged.”

And the challenge presented by a potential path of fifth-seeded Richards, No. 4 Crete-Monee and No. 1 Lemont carried an added motivational bonus.

“Last year, with the road we took we didn’t get any respect from other teams,” Blackmon said. “So I said, ‘This year, let’s take the hardest road.’”

With Friday’s 27-20 ouster of previously unbeaten Lemont, the Vikings have now advanced as far as last year’s team. The No. 12 seed will travel to Springfield for a semifinal contest with second-ranked Sacred Heart-Griffin, a 56-13 quarterfinal winner over Rock Island Saturday at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Lemont (11-1) led the Vikings (9-3) only in the first quarter, after a 37-yard Steve Fleming field goal ended its first possession. But the Indians’ drive toward a potential tying touchdown died at the St. Laurence 12-yard line with 52.2 seconds to play, when a fourth-down pass fell incomplete.

“That’s a talented team,” St. Laurence running back Fayezon Smart said of Lemont. “But we’re talented, too.

“I feel like our defense doesn’t get the credit it deserves. But tonight, our big-time players showed their true colors… Last year we had great players. This year we have great athletes — and our great athletes made big-time plays when it counted.”

Lemont quarterback Spencer Nagel completed 21 of 35 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown. But Lemont added just 74 yards on the ground and, after averaging nearly 41 points per game over its previous five outings, was stymied in several key situations by the Vikings.

Willie Spears and Damon Stewart each had multiple passes defended from the cornerback spots. Adam Andrews had three solo tackles and seven assists, Eddie Pierson had a tackle for a loss and half a sack. But no defender had a bigger day than end Sean Lange, who was credited with three solo tackles, 13 assists and a strip-and-recovery on what may have been the game’s biggest play.

Leading 13-10 after giving up a touchdown with 18.7 seconds left in the half, the Vikings kicked off to start the third quarter. Lemont gained 17 yards on its first snap of the half, but two plays later Lange blindsided Nagel, who coughed up the ball as Lange pounced on it.

“I knew I had a linebacker coming from the outside, and he flushed (Nagel) out,” Lange said. “When I stripped it, I knew I had to dive on it. Going into the second half, we knew the momentum wasn’t really on our side, so we needed a big play.”

Four snaps later, Smart (37 carries, 165 yards) scored from 11 yards out to put St. Laurence up 20-10. 

The lead grew to 27-10 when Romello Washington (11-of-19, 174 yards, 2 touchdowns) found Levy Hamer for a 19-yard scoring pass. Hamer also had a 34-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter, after Mauricio Garibay staked the Vikings to a 6-3 lead with 21- and 24-yard field goals.

From there, it was on the defense, which in the fourth quarter limited Lemont to just a 34-yard field goal on three trips inside the Vikings’ 27.

Spears said it was a matter of focus.

“I told all my players, ‘Don’t play hungry, play greedy,’” he said. “When you play hungry, it’s easy to get fooled. When you play greedy, you never get fooled.”

The Vikings, it seems, are greedy still. With last year’s 10-3 squad, St. Laurence has now combined for more wins in back-to-back years than in any seasons since the ’70s, when the 1976-79 squads averaged 11 wins and went to the state title game twice.

“We’re striving for greatness,” Spears said.