HEADLINE: Bulldogs are fourth-right
SUBHEAD: Final-period surge rebuffs Astros
By Ken Karrson
To paraphrase a football term, Shepard found itself fourth-and-gone Friday night.
That’s because host Richards was fourth-right. In particular, a brief span during which the Bulldogs revved up their defense and used that as a lead-extending trigger proved critical.
The Astros were within 46-42 with under three minutes remaining in the South Suburban Conference Red game after Kenny Gorski hit a putback, but turnovers on back-to-back possessions enabled Richards to move in front by double digits. From there it closed the deal on a 59-44 victory at D-Wade Court that kept it mathematically alive for another divisional crown.
The Bulldogs (12-11, 5-5) became Shepard fans this past Tuesday when the Astros met Eisenhower. The Cardinals are two games ahead of Richards, which is seeking a 10th straight SSC Red title.
“There’s still a lot of little things we need to clean up, but I think the guys are really focusing in more,” said Richards coach Jevon Mamon, whose squad achieved its first three-game win streak of the season.
“We got pretty good contributions off the bench [here] and it was a good team win. If guys stick to their roles, I think we can be pretty dangerous and can play with anybody.”
Three Bulldogs -- Chris Bender (16 points, including four 3s), Jaylen Catledge (16 on 6-of-9 shooting) and Ameen Hussein (12) -- scored in double figures and Lucas White finished with nine points. Catledge augmented his offense with 10 boards, four steals and three assists, the rebounding total being one more than was hauled in by Carlos Draper.
Richards’ 28-15 edge on the glass was cited as the contest’s most critical statistic by both Mamon and Astros boss Tony Chiuccariello. However, the Bulldogs also benefited from a late Shepard miscue that Bender caused and then turned into a dunk at the other end.
Catledge sank a couple charity tosses after an ensuing turnover and the sophomore converted a three-point play that was sandwiched between a pair of Astros misses.
“In the flick of a switch those things happened, unfortunately,” Chiuccariello said. “They scored fast and furiously in the last 3:38 -- they had 13 points and we had two. If the game had been 3:38 shorter, we’d have looked more competitive.
“I thought we played them much tougher than we did the first time [at Thanksgiving. They had control of the game, but we battled. [But] when we tried press and trap [in the late going] they were faster and more athletic.”
Kyle Longfield paced the Astros (5-17, 0-10) with 12 points while Zack Haxel and Kenjrick Watson both added nine. Shepard connected on only 35 percent of its shots, compared to the ‘Dogs’ 44 percent mark.
“Shepard did a great job of competing,” Mamon said. “They didn’t stop playing [hard] and they’ve been solid defensively. They don’t gamble much and they’re pretty well disciplined.”
Mamon had warned his guys to expect a stiffer challenge than they received previously when the Astros succumbed by 24 points.
“It was a conference game, a district game, and the game in November was three months ago so these were different teams,” he said. “I feel like it got a little sloppy at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but we were able to clean it up, sustain and put it away.”
Richards visited Reavis this past Tuesday and hosts cross-town neighbor Oak Lawn on Friday. In addition to trying to play spoiler for the Bulldogs against Eisenhower, a busy Shepard week featured it playing a nonconference makeup game with Universal on Monday and meeting Reavis on Friday.
Although the season has not unfolded in the manner Chiuccariello would have liked, he said he’s “proud of the kids. I think there’s improvement from the beginning of the season to now. If you look at the record, you might not see it, but we’re a lot more competitive.”
“It’s been one of those years,” said Chiuccariello, who pointed to the buzzer-beating 3-ball Richards nailed to conclude the first half as an example of how things have gone for his team. “It’s frustrating because you can feel it’s gotten better – a lot of our games have been close.
“Our kids have played hard and hopefully we’ll find a way to get a conference win. It’ll be nice to break through.”
Richards Scoring: Bender 16, Catledge 16, Hussein 12, White 9, Draper 4. Rebounds: Catledge 10, Draper 9. Assists: Catledge 3. Steals: Catledge 4.
Shepard Scoring: Longfield 12, Haxel 9, Watson 9, Gorski 6, Humphrey 6, Newhall 2. Rebounds: Humphrey 5. Assists: Gorski 4.