Knights stay the course by chomping Gators

  • Written by Ken Karrson


HEADLINE: Knights stay the course by chomping Gators


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor


Chicago Christian fans can rest easy that the Knights aren’t basketball’s version of the S.S. Minnow.

When that vessel blew off course back in the 1960s, it never found its way back to civilization, at least not until a made-for-TV movie was produced a decade later. As for Christian, it has emerged from a vortex of inconsistency to chart a steady path toward a conference title.

Nothing is yet guaranteed, but if Friday night’s 46-37 conquest of Guerin Prep was an accurate barometer it’s only a matter of time. The Knights’ third consecutive victory and their fifth in the last seven outings kept them in a first-place tie with longtime rivals Illiana Christian and Timothy Christian in the Metro Suburban Conference East.

Chicago Christian (12-12, 8-2) hosts the Trojans on Friday. Before that it squared off with Elmwood Park in a Tuesday matchup coach Kevin Pittman said absolutely could not be overlooked.

“We’re almost belaboring the point to death -- nothing is going to matter [on Friday] if we don’t get ones in between,” he said. “We’re doing our best to focus on the next game, not the one that’s two or three games away.”

That strategy has been followed in the Knights’ first two contests since downing Illiana to create the aforementioned deadlock at the top. That didn’t mean, though, Pittman was always comfortable with what transpired versus the Gators.

“Guerin is just pesty -- they don’t seem to go away,” he said. “They were never really close enough [for the outcome] to be in doubt, but I was just never able to relax until the time ran out.”

The two teams were tied once in the opening half and Christian trailed 17-16 with 3:35 left in the second quarter before freshman Jack Ellison’s 3-pointer put the hosts in front to stay. Ahead by four at intermission, the Knights began the third period with four quick baskets, two of which were set up by steals from Daylon Washington and Jay Spencer.

Washington (field goal, two free throws) supplied the points in both instances and Trevor Wolterink hit a shot off a nifty pass from Marcus Parker to hand Christian a 31-21 advantage. Wolterink finished as the Knights’ scoring leader with 16 points and also grabbed a team-best 12 rebounds.

Spencer and Washington both tossed in eight, Ellison had six and Bradford Fitzpatrick earned praise for his defense. According to Pittman, the latter “guarded everybody on the floor at some point and did a good job.” Guerin wound up with a field-goal percentage of just 34.

“We took away a little of our gambling on defense -- we want everybody to have to shoot over us or go through us,” Pittman said. “The number of turnovers [caused] has gone down but so have the points we’ve given up. I like that tradeoff.”

Christian’s own accuracy rate languished too but helping to compensate for that was a 31-25 edge on the glass, six more made free throws and only five turnovers.

“All in all, I’m glad we’re not putting pictures [of our performance] in the scorebook, but a win’s a win,” Pittman said. “We need to play in games like that to be prepared [for the playoffs] and know what things to clean up.

“It’s been a while since we played this late in the season with the games meaning something. I’m glad the guys get to go through this.”

Pittman said his guys “fought hard to get back to .500,” and one reason for that is the Knights’ schedule. Starting with the season-opening District 218 Tournament at Thanksgiving, Christian has featured a significant number of bigger schools on its slate.

“We kind of set our schedule up that way on purpose,” Pittman said. “Playing an easier schedule gives you false hope and expectations.”

The Knights’ last league championship was in 2010-11 when they were a member of the Suburban Christian Conference. Back then, however, neither Timothy Christian nor Illiana Christian was part of the mix.

“This kind of reminds me of the old [Private School League] days,” Pittman said. “You beat a team once and it’s hard to beat them again.”

Of course, Pittman hopes his club bucks that trend seeing as how it already owns one win against the Trojans.

Chicago Christian     46

Guerin Prep   37

Chicago Christian Scoring: Wolterink 16, Spencer 8, Washington 8, Ellison 6, Fitzpatrick 5, Parker 3. Rebounds: Wolterink 12. Assists: Fitzpatrick 3, Parker 3.


Bulldogs are fourth-right

  • Written by Ken Karrson


HEADLINE: Bulldogs are fourth-right

SUBHEAD: Final-period surge rebuffs Astros


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor


            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         59

            Shepard          44

            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.




OT not OK for Spartans

  • Written by Ken Karrson


HEADLINE: OT not OK for Spartans

SUBHEAD: Late flurry in fourth quarter goes for naught


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor

            Oak Lawn learned last Tuesday that momentum can only take a team so far.

What the Spartans needed was for it to carry over an additional four minutes. By hitting visiting Argo with a late flurry in the fourth quarter, Oak Lawn expunged all of a 12-point deficit in the span of just 3 ½ minutes.

But with all the energy seemingly pointing in their direction, the Spartans couldn’t take advantage in overtime. They definitely came close -- when Josh Prince tallied with 8.1 seconds remaining in the extra session, Oak Lawn was up by a point – but the Argonauts managed to have the final say.

First, they got two additional seconds put back on the clock, an act Spartans coach Jason Rhodes didn’t quite comprehend. Then Argo avoided what Rhodes believed should have been a double-dribble call, rebounded its own missed shot and drew a foul with .3 seconds left. Two free throws later Oak Lawn was on the wrong end of a 58-57 final in the South Suburban Conference Red matchup.

“It was frustrating,” Rhodes said of the outcome. “That was tough, especially after [losing] the Reavis game [by three points] on [the previous] Friday. But we should have gathered in the rebound.”

Actually, there were several things Rhodes would have preferred being different. He didn’t like the ill-advised 3-pointer the Spartans (9-14, 3-8) took while holding a two-point lead in OT and he especially regretted a huge differential in fouls -- Oak Lawn was assessed 14 of them in the second half while Argo did not get charged with any.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Rhodes said. “Were we fouling? Yes, but were they a perfect defensive team?

“It seems like every questionable call went against us -- at home. I’m at a loss to explain it.”

In the early going everything came up roses for the Spartans, who jumped out to a 17-9 edge in the opening period. As Rhodes explained, it “was just a half-court game and we were executing well.”

The scenario changed, though, once the Argonauts began employing a 2-2-1 zone defense. With standout Marcus Fry fueling its offense with 11 points, Argo outscored Oak Lawn 21-8 in the second stanza to seize control.

The lead was six after three quarters and got extended to 12 midway through the final stanza before the Spartans made a push. Three-pointers by Jimmy Wiltzius and Rashad Johnson on consecutive possessions quickly sliced the margin in half, then Joe Cosenza’s steal set up another bucket.

The Argonauts were clinging to a three-point advantage in the last 30 seconds with two fouls to give before they would send Oak Lawn to the free-throw line. But after Rhodes asked for a timeout at the six-second mark to set up an out-of-bounds play, Johnson delivered from beyond the arc to create the need for overtime.

Johnson, who established a single-game school record for 3s the week before by hitting eight versus Fenton, nailed six more here to finish with a team-best 18 points. Prince added 16 points and six boards while Wiltzius had 13 points, passed out six assists and did not commit any turnovers.

Cosenza tied Wiltzius for the assist lead and Dean Khater collected seven rebounds to top the Spartans in that category.

“Our guys just fight,” Rhodes said. “That’s the great thing about coaching this group. They’ve really turned the corner in how they play together and trust in each other. They’re doing a great job of moving the ball and sharing the ball.”

Oak Lawn shot 11 points worse than Argo from the field (39 percent to 50) but had a dozen more attempts, due in part to 17 assists and only seven miscues, seven fewer than the Argonauts. The real difference was found at the charity stripe -- while Argo missed half of its chances, it took 28 free throws compared to nine for the Spartans.

            Eisenhower 93

            Oak Lawn 73

Pitted against the SSC Red-leading Cardinals on Friday, the Spartans couldn’t afford to let their latest disappointment linger. And in Rhodes’ opinion his players didn’t.

            “We were able to refocus pretty quickly and get on to [preparing for] Eisenhower right away,” he said.

            Of course, to the casual onlooker it might not have appeared that way as the Cardinals jetted out to a massive 40-14 lead in the first period behind nine 3-point buckets, four of which came on their first five possessions. Eisenhower threw up 58 shots from beyond the arc on the evening and canned 16 of them.

            While Rhodes admitted that the Cards’ offensive prowess was mostly responsible for his team’s early predicament, he also felt Oak Lawn hadn’t done itself any favors when it had the ball.

            “I thought we had a good game plan going in, but we missed some easy ones,” Rhodes said. “You have to make the layups and finish at the rim.

            “What we wanted to do was break their press and try to play keep-away, but we played right into their hands. We can’t beat them at their game. They’re a longer, more athletic team, which makes it tough when they’re crashing five guys.”

            The last part of Rhodes’ statement referred to Eisenhower’s willingness to send everyone to the glass in an attempt to grab rebounds. While the Cardinals’ 37 percent shooting paled next to the Spartans’ 50 percent success rate, the former launched 35 more shots thanks to 30 offensive rebounds. Eisenhower scored 35 second-chance points.

            Prince did his part to keep Oak Lawn competitive by totaling 30 points and eight rebounds. Khater checked in with 16 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, Johnson netted 10 points and Cosenza distributed 10 assists.

            The Spartans, who were charged with two-dozen turnovers -- a number Rhodes thought adequate given the game’s up-tempo nature -- actually outpointed the Cardinals in each of the last three quarters but never by more than three points.

            Oak Lawn squares off with cross-town neighbor Richards on Friday.

            Argo   58

            Oak Lawn      57

            Oak Lawn Scoring: Johnson 18, Prince 16, Wiltzius 13, Alshaikh 3, Nelson 3, Cosenza 2, Khater 2. Rebounds: Khater 7, Prince 6. Assists: Cosenza 6, Wiltzius 6.

            Eisenhower    93

            Oak Lawn      73

            Oak Lawn Scoring: Prince 30, Khater 16, Johnson 10, Alshaikh 7, Smith 4, Wiltzius 4, Richardson 2. Rebounds: Khater 15, Prince 8. Assists: Cosenza 10, Khater 5.



Skin of their teeth

  • Written by Ken Karrson


HEADLINE: Skin of their teeth

SUBHEAD: Hussein FG lifts Bulldogs past Mustangs


By Ken Karrson

Sports Editor


            Richards players acknowledged to coach Jevon Mamon how much stress they’ve been putting the first-year leader under of late.

            “Friday night the kids said they had to stop giving me a heart attack,” Mamon said with a chuckle. “It was a scary week, [but] we were joking about it.”

            The main reason the Bulldogs were able to enjoy a bit of levity was because both nail-biters in which they engaged last week tilted their way by the end. Friday’s 40-39 win over Evergreen Park, realized when Ameen Hussein beat the final buzzer with a running one-hander, was the big one as it allowed Richards to retain thoughts of a successful South Suburban Conference Red title defense.

            Richards also edged Hubbard 54-51 in a nonconference matchup on Tuesday.

            “We need to finish out strong,” said Mamon, whose club trails SSC Red leader Eisenhower by two games. The District 218 sister schools will meet on the last Friday of the regular season.

            “Guys took a mindset that we took enough losses [and] we’re not going to lose anymore. [But] we know we didn’t play our best game [versus the Mustangs], so we have to keep working. We can’t afford to not put forth our best effort for 32 minutes on the floor.”

            Lack of effort wasn’t the Bulldogs’ problem; lack of shooting success was, at least for portions of the contest. Evergreen (6-18, 1-8) parked itself in a 2-3 zone defense and Richards (11-11, 4-5) ended the evening with a shooting percentage that languished below 40.

            In an attempt to ease some of his team’s frustration, Mamon chose to stall during the second half, but that strategy backfired. Not only did the Mustangs refuse to budge, they also forced a turnover that led to points for them.

            “We were fine with a low-scoring game,” Evergreen coach Pat Flannigan said. “We have trouble scoring, so I had no problem with that.”

            The only two Mustangs able to make much offensive headway were Isaac Matthews and Jordan Brown, who combined to net all but five of Evergreen’s points. Matthews complemented his 24-point outburst with eight rebounds and three assists while Brown made three steals and blocked three shots.

            The Mustangs were slightly superior to Richards shooting-wise, but their 43 percent success rate got buried beneath 18 turnovers and a sub-par 55 percent display at the foul line. The majority of Evergreen’s nine missed free throws came in the fourth quarter.

            Bounces didn’t go the Mustangs’ way at other times either. They missed one layup after stealing the ball and watched the Bulldogs bank in 3-pointer during the game and retain possession in another instance after a pass bounced off a Richards player’s head and right into the hands of another Bulldog.

            “We didn’t have any luck at all,” Flannigan said. “We had some tough shots hit against us.

            “I just felt bad for our seniors. Those guys haven’t beaten Richards. We can’t pin this [loss] on one person -- through the course of the game I can point to six or seven possessions [with improper execution] by six or seven different guys.”

Both squads held an advantage during the final frame, but neither ever led by more than seven at any juncture. Mamon felt Richards did a better job of not settling for outside shots later on, but such was not always the case.

“We had the lead, but [at times] we were playing like we were down,” he said. “We were rushing things. I pulled Hussein aside one time and said, ‘We should be looking at you to settle us down.’ He made a great play at the end of the game and showed how much character he has.

“[Flannigan’s] kids played hard and were scrappy, like we knew they would. I’m grateful we were able to come out with the victory.”

Impressing Mamon as much as the outcome itself was the manner in which his players handled the rough patches.

“When we hit adversity, guys weren’t pointing fingers or balming each other,” he said. “We stayed the course with it. We hadn’t won two straight since Christmas, so maybe that is what we need [to get on a roll].”

            Richards 54

            Hubbard 51

The Greyhounds’ Deonta McReynolds was nearly a one-man wrecking crew last Tuesday, but the Bulldogs survived his 29-point eruption to bag a win. Jaylen Catledge tallied 14 points and Chris Bender, who had supplied Richards with 25 points and five rebounds the week before versus Brother Rice, finished with 12 markers.

Mamon credited Lucas White with slowing up McReynolds somewhat after halftime.

“He was face-guarding him and making it difficult for [McReynolds] to catch the ball,” Mamon said.

Richards’ only outing this week is Friday’s date with its other district rival, Shepard.

            Putnam County 64

            Evergreen Park 47

Flannigan described Friday’s game as “a heartbreaker” and said “our hearts stayed broken on Saturday.”

Appearing at the Panthers’ one-day shootout in Granville, the Mustangs lost the opening tip, immediately fell behind when the hosts sank a layup and never were in front. Evergreen managed just 14 points in the first 16 minutes as Matthews struggled through his worst performance of the year en route to a season-low four points.

“When he struggles, we struggle,” Flannigan said. “We came out flat and they took the wind out of our sails. We fought a little bit in the second half, but our execution was still poor.

“We didn’t have the heart or the energy and [the Panthers] were not bad. They had a couple guys you can see have played a lot of basketball.”

Tyler Sorbellini’s 10 points represented the Mustangs’ top individual production. Putnam County outshot Evergreen 54 percent to 31, and the latter also committed 15 miscues.

The Mustangs square off with Reavis in an SSC Red game on Friday.

Richards         40

Evergreen Park         39

Richards Scoring: Hussein 14.

Evergreen Park Scoring: Matthews 24, Brown 10, Pritchett 2, Sorbellini 2, Smyth 1. Rebounds: Matthews 8. Assists: Matthews 3. Steals: Brown 3, Moran 3. Blocks: Brown 3, Pritchett 3.


Richards         54

Hubbard        51

Richards Scoring: Catledge 14, Bender 12.


Putnam County         64

Evergreen Park         47

Evergreen Park Scoring: Sorbellini 10.


Top 10 sports stories of the year

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




It was an exciting and productive year in area sports in 2014.

Take Trinity Christian College for instance. The Trolls’ volleyball team won a national championship. In most years, that could be good enough to be the top sports story of the year.

Not this year.

The year was so strong, that a national championship had to take a back seat to two other stories.

The top 10 list of sports stories in the Reporter and Regional feature Olympians, NFL draftees, state champions, huge events coming into our area and even a guy who had a couple of holes-in-one in less than a week.

So before new sports memories are made in 2015, here are the top sports stories of 2014:

$11.       Silver Coyne

Sandburg graduate and Palos Heights native Kendall Coyne earned a spot on the Olympic women’s hockey team, competed in Sochi, Russia in February and came home with a silver medal.

In the first five games, Coyne racked up three goals and six assist to get to the gold medal game.

Once she came home, she and her medal toured several area schools and she made countless speeches to students and civic groups.

2. Feeling the draft

Former Sandburg and University of Michigan standout Michael Schofield was a third-round pick – and 95th pick overall – in the 2014 NFL Draft on May 9.

He received a call from Broncos’ General Manager John Elway and a text from  quarterback Payton Manning that night. Through 15 games, he has yet to see action for the Broncos.

$13.       Trinity Christian wins national championship

Trinity Christian College’s volleyball team claimed the National Christian College Athletic Association national championship in early December.

The Trolls beat Colorado Christian University 23-25, 25-18, 25-17, 25-15 to win the tournament. Rachel Verhage had 18 kills, 11 digs and four blocks in the triumph.

$14.       Hosting a Final Four

                St. Xavier’s football team made it to the NAIA national semifinals for the fifth time in school history but unlike the first four times, the Cougars played this game at home.

                The result, however, was not to their liking. After grabbing a 17-10 lead after the first quarter, the Cougars gave up 31 straight and lost a wild one, 62-37 to Southern Oregon on Dec. 6 Southern Oregon went on to win the national championship with a 55-31 victory over Marian (Ind.) on Dec. 20.

$15.       Four great coaches retire

                In the spring, four veteran coaches announced their retirements and they enjoyed highly successful careers.

Denise Bromberek, who was Marist’s softball coach in the first 12 years of the program and won a state title in 2012, John Chappetto, who won a state title in 2008 as the head boys basketball boss, Janet Meyers, who won 256 games at Oak Lawn’s girls basketball coach, and Brother Rice boys volleyball coach Paul Ickes, the first coach in the state to win 500 matches, all called it a career.

$16.       ESPN2 comes to town

Moraine Valley Community College’s new gym hosted a huge high school basketball game on Dec. 19 and St. Rita knocked off nationally-ranked Simeon, 51-46. The game was broadcast all over the world on ESPN2.

Moraine Athletic Director Bill Finn said the game drew 2,600 fans to the Palos Hills campus and there was a guest appearance by Kentucky Coach John Calipari, who was watching recruit Charles Matthews of St. Rita.

$17.       A Screeching halt

Mt. Assisi High School closed its doors and in late May, the Screeching Eagles softball team played the last athletic event in school history.

The team made it to the regional championship before bowing out to Chicago Christian, 11-7, May 24 in Palos Heights. Terri Dearth’s grand slam pulled the Eagles to within one run at one point but the Knights rallied to put an end to the Eagles athletic program.

$18.       Coaching merry-go-round at EP
Evergreen Park football coach Dan Hartman took a job at Hinsdale Central and school officials hired Phillips coach Troy McAllister. But on June 8, McAllister was let go because of a lack of teaching credentials and Ray Mankowski took over.

Evergreen Park qualified for the playoffs under Mankowski. Hartman opened his first week with a bang as his Red Devils ousted Bolingbrook, a preseason No. 1 team in both Chicago daily newspapers. As for McAllister? He returned to Phillips as an assistant but was soon promoted back to his old job and his team became the second Chicago Public League school in Illinois High School Association history to make it to a state championship game.

$19.       Orland athletes win state titles

                Providence Catholic’s baseball team win the Class 4A state championship in the heat of June and its football team won the Class 7A state title in the cold of November.

                Some Orland Park standouts helped the New Lenox private school bring home the top trophies including Ben Salvador in baseball and Jake Rost and Richie Warfield in football.

$110.   Aces wild

Palos Heights resident Bob Murphy recorded to holes-in-one in a six-day span at two different courses in June.

He had an ace at the Bolingbrook Golf Club on a 152-yard, 13th hole on June 17, six days after he aced the 109-yard seventh hole at the Zigfield Troy Gold Club in Woodridge. It brought up his career hole-in-one total to four.