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Rolling to title game : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Rolling to title game
Oswego East boys' basketball team starts 3-0 at Romeoville

by Laura M. Medina


A positive response after a tough loss was all that first-year head coach Steve Szymanski was looking for as the Oswego East boys' basketball team headed into its holiday schedule.

That's exactly what the Wolves have done since then, putting together an impressive run at the Romeoville Christmas Classic, including a 76-64 victory over Reavis on Friday afternoon.

Oswego East opened the season 0-6 and did not pick up its first win until it faced off against Southwest Prairie Rival Romeoville on Dec. 13. Success did not last long, however, as the team dropped a 58-51 overtime heartbreaker to crosstown rival Oswego one week later.

Now, it is in the midst of its winningest stretch of the season, as triumphs over Argo in Thursday's opener, Reavis on Friday, and Shepard on Saturday night set the team up for the tournament's title game versus Oak Forest in the large-school bracket on Monday.

Results were unavailable at press time, but for the first time in the young season, the Wolves appear to have some confidence to their game plan.

"We have to continue to get better as a team, and that was our goal in this tournament," Szymanski said. "We had a tough loss versus Oswego after we had a big lead, and I was worried about how we would respond here. We have responded really well."

After defeating Argo 69-65 to open their holiday slate, the Wolves returned to the hardwood the following day and took an early 7-2 lead on Reavis in the first three minutes of the game.

Things started slowing down, though, as they were whistled for seven straight fouls, allowing the Rams to jump ahead 8-7 in that stretch. Eventually, the Wolves righted the ship and closed out the first quarter on an 11-4 run, led by junior guard Daejon Perry's five points.

"I thought we came out with a good defensive effort from the start," Szymanski said. "We knew that we had to play tougher defense, and I thought we did a good job, but they called it really tight, which affected us a little bit.

"Guys got in foul trouble, but we overcame that, and I thought we played well. They had 14 points off of free throws in the first half...but we did a good job to overcome that."

Oswego East opened its lead to 31-17 about three minutes into the second, riding the efforts of three-pointers from Perry (10 points) and senior forwards Devin Flowers (seven points) and James Callegari (13 points). Over the next 1:30, though, four different Reavis scorers combined for eight unanswered points to cut the deficit.

Freshman forward Trevor Ross (10 points) led the Wolves' charge on an 8-0 run of their own with back-to-back three-pointers - their eighth such shot of the first half - and eventually led 40-30 at the intermission.

"I wouldn't say we were looking for the three by any means, but we like to get the ball to the middle of the court, and if the kick out for the three is there, then that's a good shot for us," Szymanski said.

Oswego East did not let up in the third, jumping ahead 49-34 in the first two minutes and then adding to it with a 10-6 run the rest of the way. Callegari and senior guard Jeremy Mitchell each contributed five points in the quarter, while forward Eduard Puha paced Reavis with two baskets in that span.

"In my perspective, we are the most athletic team in the tournament, so when we play well, we have time to set up good plays," said Mitchell, who finished with 11 points, three rebounds and two steals versus Reavis. "We all get along, and we have good team chemistry."

Junior forward Houston McCullum's put-back in the opening seconds of the fourth gave the Wolves a 61-40 advantage for its biggest lead of the day.

McCullum finished with seven points, four rebounds, and two steals. He was one of eight Oswego East players to score at least five points on the day.

"As far as balance goes, we've got five guys on our team that are averaging eight points a game," Szymanski said. "We don't have an all-star ... and we're finally becoming a team. We're playing together, and we're playing for each other, which I don't think we were doing at the beginning of the year. We're having fun out there playing as a team."

The Rams put together a 7-0 surge led by Puha's five points in the next two minutes, but that wasn't enough to derail Oswego East, which played much of the final portion of the game with its reserves and still came up with the 76-64 win.

"For the first time all season, I think we played as a team," Mitchell said. "We played a full 32 minutes."

With momentum on their side, the Wolves continued their success at the Romeoville Christmas Classic on Saturday with a 64-51 win over Shepard to set up Monday's championship contest versus Oak Forest.

"There's something good about this tournament for us," Szymanski said.

Following tournament play, Oswego East will travel to Minooka on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. game before hosting Plainfield Central on Jan. 10.

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