Written by Ken Karrson
Shepard’s Darren Cohen fires a pass from out of bounds during the Astros’ neighborhood matchup with Chicago Christian last Wednesday. The host Knights registered a 50-46 victory. Photos by Jeff Vorva.Knights nip Astros in neighborhood battle
Chicago Christian may not become king in its final season within the Suburban Christian Conference, but it still reigns as local royalty.
The Knights became the princes of Palos Heights, at least for the 2013-14 regular season, by inching their way past Shepard last Wednesday. The game, which was postponed from Tuesday because of the weather-induced closing of both schools, wasn’t decided until the very end, when the visiting Astros were unable to capitalize on Darren Cohen’s steal of Christian’s inbounds pass.
Shepard coach Tony Chiuccariello felt Cohen had drawn contact on his layup, but no foul was whistled. As a result, the Knights maintained a two-point lead with less than 10 seconds left, and a pair of free throws sealed the verdict on a 50-46 victory.
Chiuccariello admitted that he was Chicago Christian’s Bradford Fitzpatrick grabs some of Shepard player Nick Heidinger’s jersey last Wednesday in Palos Heights. Phots by Jeff Vorva.“pretty upset at the officiating” in more than one instance — he cited the referees’ failure to see him vigorously signaling for a fourth-quarter timeout as another frustrating moment — but he was also quick to credit his team’s conqueror.
“There were some weird calls and non-calls, but I don’t want to take anything away from Christian,” Chiuccariello said. “Give them their due — I thought Christian did a real nice job.”
Knights boss Kevin Pittman wasn’t as enamored of his club’s showing, saying it “played well enough to win. I don’t think we played poorly, but I don’t think we played great.” Nevertheless, he appreciated Chiuccariello’s praise.
“Tony’s a great guy and I love going against him,” Pittman said. “Our announcer called it ‘the Battle of Palos Heights,’ and with this series it seems to go back and forth. I guess this was our turn [to succeed] and I’ll always take a win.”
Blaine Wright helped finalize it for Christian by depositing 4-of-5 free throws in the closing stanza. He had 19 points, six rebounds and three assists to lead the Knights, who never relinquished their advantage over the last eight minutes despite entering the quarter with a slim 36-32 edge in hand.
Three of Wright’s charity tosses extended the hosts’ lead to 42-35, but Jacob Littleton’s hoop followed for Shepard and kept it in the hunt. The Astros’ defense barely missed forcing Christian into a 10-second violation, but then Jay Spencer hit a basket for the Knights that gave them a bit more breathing room.
Shepard misfired on a potential game-tying 3 with less than a minute-and-a-half to go after Littleton and Malcolm Lawson combined to create another Christian miscue. However, Cohen’s long ball answered a Knights layup and drew the visitors back within a deuce.
Littleton (19 points) sank one last bucket for the Astros, but it wasn’t enough to save them.
“I give them credit for coming up with shots out of their press break,” Chiuccariello said of Christian. “They did what they needed to do to win.”
The Knights made the same number of field goals as Shepard, but bettered their guests by three at the foul line while connecting on 84 percent of their attempts. The Astros drilled just half of their 18 charity tosses and also wound up short on the boards, as they again played without Kyle Longfield, who fractured a bone in his foot during Christmas tournament play and is lost to Shepard indefinitely.
Also scoring in double figures for Christian were Spencer (10 points) and Trevor Wolterink (10 points, six rebounds, three assists). Pittman thought the Knights’ victory represented a logical progression from their final holiday outing, which featured Christian playing Reavis tough before losing by single digits.
“There was a lot more good than bad [versus the Rams],” Pittman said. “A couple key things for us right now are the two P’s: patience and poise, and we saw some of the improvement we were hoping to make [in that regard].”
Immaculate Conception 61
Chicago Christian 37
Pittman lost his own patience on Friday, so much so that he was assessed a pair of technical fouls and won’t be able to coach Saturday’s game against Guerin Prep. Knights assistant coach Wally Ottenhoff also received a “T” in Christian’s rematch with IC.
What set the two men off? Well, a 26-8 differential in foul calls certainly didn’t put either Pittman or Ottenhoff in a good frame of mind. IC found itself in the double bonus with three minutes left in the first half, while being guilty of just two fouls of its own over those first 13 minutes.
“I’m not saying we didn’t commit any fouls,” Pittman said. “But in no way, shape or form were we the more aggressive team.”
Despite the apparent uphill climb, Christian (6-9, 0-4) trailed by only four at halftime. Still, Pittman found that circumstance frustrating.
“We outplayed them the whole first half,” he said of IC. “Playing as well as we did, I think [our athletes] were a little deflated going into the locker room. I think the kids were wondering what they had to do [to catch a break].”
The score remained close into the fourth quarter, but IC’s seven-point edge soon grew significantly, thanks to a series of free throws. What finally made Pittman — who had only been assessed three technical fouls in 19 years of coaching prior to Friday night — blow his cool was when Wright was charged with an offensive foul while stationed right in front of the Knights’ bench.
According to Pittman, Wright’s pushing away of an IC defender’s arm came only after the latter had made contact with Wright’s face while guarding the Christian player.
“There was clear contact, and at that point I was beside myself,” Pittman said. “I had just had enough. If the coaches didn’t get a technical foul there, Blaine would have because he was livid. It was a time I felt I had to step up and protect our players.”
While Pittman was understandably irate, he later regretted “it got down to that level” and apologized to his players because “that doesn’t excuse what I did.”
With the charity tosses aiding it, IC ran away from the Knights in the fourth period by outscoring them 25-8. IC had beaten Christian by 17 points back on Dec. 13.
Wright had 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists for the Knights, while Wolterink contributed eight points and seven boards.
Playing what Chiuccariello deemed “our best defensive game of the season” on Friday night was enough for the Astros to roll over the Braves in a South Suburban Conference crossover game in Palos Heights.
Knowing his squad enjoyed an overall size advantage against Bremen, Chiuccariello desired to exploit that asset as much as possible.
“We wanted to make them play a half-court game,” he said. “They have a small team with quick guards, so we did not want a transition game.”
A 9-7 first period favoring Shepard (6-8, 3-2) proved that the Astros were doing what their leader wanted. The hosts were up by eight (33-25) after three stanzas, then gradually increased their lead in the early stages of the final quarter by scoring a few times at the end of long possessions.
Buckets by Malik Smith and Littleton were part of the clinching surge, as were a couple of free throws.
“Everything was being passed around and going inside,” Chiuccariello said. “We got to be patient and were taking what the defense gave us. Offensively, we were sloppy at times [earlier], but we played really hard.”
Littleton dropped in 26 points to pace the Astros, while Cohen chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds. Nick Heidinger and Zack Haxel collected 15 more boards for Shepard, which posted a 35-24 advantage on the glass.
Chiuccariello would have preferred something better than a 32 percent success rate from his squad shooting-wise, but that wasn’t a problem here. The Astros held the Braves to a field-goal percentage of just 27 while forcing 15 turnovers.
“If we can play defense like this all the time, we’re going to be successful,” said Chiuccariello, whose team was scheduled to face TF South and TF North this week. Shepard hosts the Meteors on Friday.
Shepard 13 10 9 14 - 46
Chgo. Christian 11 13 12 14 - 50
Shepard Scoring: Littleton 19, Cohen 9, Haxel 7, Gorski 6, Heidinger 3, Smith 2. Rebounds: Heidinger 5. Assists: Cohen 4. Steals: Cohen 3.
Chicago Christian Scoring: Wright 19, Spencer 10, Wolterink 10, Leo 6, Fitzpatrick 5. Rebounds: Fitzpatrick 7, Wolterink 6, Wright 6. Assists: Fitzpatrick 3, Wolterink 3, Wright 3.
Chgo. Christian 10 10 9 8 - 37
IC 9 15 12 25 - 61
Chicago Christian Scoring: Wright 11, Wolterink 8, Spencer 4, Washington 4, Parker 3, Fitzpatrick 2, Leo 2, Winchester 2, Decker 1. Rebounds: Wright 8, Wolterink 7. Assists: Parker 4.
Bremen 7 9 9 6 - 31
Shepard 9 13 11 16 - 49
Shepard Scoring: Littleton 26, Cohen 10, Gorski 4, Haxel 3, Heidinger 2, Smith 2, Witherspoon 2. Rebounds: Heidinger 9, Cohen 7, Haxel 6.