A measure of heart : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|A measure of heart |
|Oswego boys basketball team wins first Class 4A regional title |
|by Kristin Sharp|
The Oswego boys' basketball team anticipated a tough challenge from Bolingbrook in Friday's Class 4A Batavia Regional championship game and the Raiders gave them everything the Panthers could handle.
But despite Bolingbrook's advantage in size and height, the Raiders could not match Oswego's heart on the court.
The Panthers (28-2) withstood a fourth-quarter push by the Raiders to cut Oswego's lead to single digits, 65-59, but Oswego closed out in the final two minutes to claim a 72-59 victory.
"Before the game, coach said it's not the size of the guy, it's the size of the heart. I think we definitely had the bigger hearts," Oswego senior forward Jack Kwiatkowski said.
The regional title is Oswego's first Class 4A championship and first since 2010, but only the third under head coach Kevin Schnable's tenure. Since 1985, Oswego went without playoff hardware for more than two decades before winning a pair of 3A regionals in 2008 and 2009 - including the state runner-up finish in 2008.
Now making its debut in a Class 4A sectional tournament, Oswego was set to face West Aurora in Tuesday's Bolingbrook Sectional semifinal, but a snowstorm postponed the game to Wednesday and results were unavailable at press time.
The winner of Wednesday's semifinal advances to Friday's championship game at 7:30 p.m.
"We have a lineup full of seniors and I really think it's so simple; it's as simple as in belief in each other and confidence in each other," Oswego head coach Kevin Schnable said. "We've been through a heckuva lot together. This is what we've waited for. This is what we've worked for. We've been driven by this for a year. It was first Friday night in March and after this win, anything can happen. We just have a bunch of battlers. Four guys in double figures, good sharing leads to good shooting. Defensively, we just keep coming after you. We just keep talking about how the size of the heart is all that matters."
Kwiatkowski was a big part of Oswego's defensive effort, especially with his assignment to guard Bolingbrook's 6-foot-6 center Kenneth Williams, who was called for three fouls in the game including a technical after locking up with Kwiatkowski under the basket.
"We just kept our composure," said Oswego senior guard Miles Simelton, who scored a team-best 25 points. "Coach (Kevin Schnable) always talks about bending, not breaking. They bent us a little bit and made a run, but we withstood it and we held our composure."
Oswego held a 15-point lead late in the third quarter after senior Elliot McGaughy's steal and crowd-pleasing alley-oop pass to Simelton, who finished with a big dunk to give Oswego a 56-41 lead tin 1:26 left in the third.
But the Panthers' double-digit lead was short-lived in the fourth. Bolingbrook senior Ben Moore, a 6-foot-8 guard who is committed to Southern Methodist University, completed a three-point play on his way to an eight-point effort in the fourth. Moore scored a team-best 26 points for the Raiders.
"Ben's an All-State player for a reason and he played like it tonight," Bolingbrook head coach Rob Brost said of Moore.
Moore kept Bolingbrook in the game, but Oswego sophomore Zach West was key off the bench for the Panthers in the third quarter. He hit his third three-pointer of the game with 6:32 to play in the fourth to give Oswego a 61-50 lead, and Schnable called a timeout to regroup his squad.
"Coach called a timeout and just told us to relax," McGaughy said.
"It's a big gym. We had to forget about everything that was outside the lines and focus on what was inside the lines."
Although Bolingbrook scored the next four points in the game, Simelton broke the mini run with a layup - Oswego's first layup in an extended stretch after the Panthers went 1-for-4 at the arc to start the fourth.
McGaughy (17 points) followed with another layup, but a putback from Bolingbrook junior Kendall Guyton created a 65-59 game with 1:56 to play.
Oswego struggled in the bonus, missing the front end of two one-and-one opportunities, but Simelton came through with a layup with 1:29 to play, and senior Darrion Reddick - who had a standout game with four three-pointers for 18 total points - went 2-for-2 at the foul line.
"Something has to give when you're guarding us, and with Miles and EJ, there's quiet Red with 18 points," Simelton said.
Bolingbrook was forced to foul to stop the clock, and Simelton went 3-for-4 to close out the scoring and the 13-point victory for Oswego. This is the second regional title for Simelton and McGaughy, who played on the varsity team as freshmen.
"We've been playing together since seventh grade and it's been a long run. It's finally paying off, all the hard work we've put in," Simelton said. "Everyone is just coming together and we're playing great."
Reddick opened the game with a three-pointer and Simelton followed suit just 42 seconds later to give Oswego a 6-1 lead.
Oswego senior Jamaal Richardson took a charge under the Bolingbrook basket to stop the Raiders in the paint, and McGaughy scored a pair of baskets to extend the Panthers lead, 12-6.
"We wanted to keep them in front and make other guys beat us and they did," Brost said. "Reddick played very well. We had a problem getting it to our bigs, especially in the first half, and that was the difference in the game."
Reddick hit another late three-pointer in the first quarter and Oswego held a 15-10 lead after the opening eight minutes.
"I knew we were going to get the zone and we practiced it all week, and we were ready," Reddick said.
McGaughy opened the second quarter with a three-pointer and Oswego held command of the game for the rest of the first half.
Simelton's three-pointer with 2:46 left in the half pushed the Panthers to a double-digit lead, 30-20, and his next long-distance basket just 37 seconds later extended the lead, 33-21.
McGaughy scored the final two field goals of the half and Oswego went into intermission with a 37-27 lead.
"It's pick your poison. They beat you off the dribble then you have to close out to the shooters. We tried to keep them in front and we did a better job in the second half of doing that, but the difference in the game was the turnovers and not getting into the lane," Brost said. "That's what we were stressing and we just turned it over too much. I think we had 10 turnovers in the first quarter."
Reddick opened the second half with a three-pointer and West (10 points) scored his first three-pointer with 5:57 to play in the third for a 43-29 lead. He followed up 44 seconds later with another triple for a 47-31 score.
"Jamaal sets the tone with his defensive pressure on the other team's point guard, and if we can get to a team's point guard, we can get to a team," Schnable said. "Kwi obviously is giving up a lot of size, but he's not giving up size where it matters most. Josh (Oros) was huge tonight. He gave us that lift we needed. We got into foul trouble and he gave us some size. Zach West off the bench was huge in the third quarter to open it up to double digits."
But just as it appeared Oswego would pull away with a comfortable lead, Bolingbrook came alive. Raider sophomore Prentiss Nixon's basket sparked a 6-0 run with a pair of baskets from Moore to cut Oswego's lead, 47-37. And although McGaughy's jumper at the end of the third quarter gave Oswego a 58-45 lead, the Raiders were able to pull within single digits in the fourth quarter before Oswego clinched the victory down the stretch.
"It all comes down to heart. Boxing out. Having that pride that they're not going to out-rebound you. It's not the size. It's just the heart," Richardson said.
"Coach always tells us if it's not hard, it's not fun," Reddick said. "We knew we were going to have a hard game and we did our best."