Area Teams Finding Places in Pecking Order
Crystal Lake South Gators are on a three-game winning streak.
From the heady 5-1 start of the Grayslake North Knights to the rugged 1-4 beginnings of a Prairie Ridge Wolves team still finding it's basketball legs, Patch.com-area teams have already experienced wide-ranging degrees of success this young season.
But all the clubs and their coaches have the same overall goal in mind, even this early in the campaign. They all want to put the game experiences into proper perspective, learn something from each outing and, most importantly, improve in the process.
Here's a few examples of highs and lows witnessed in Week 2.
GATORS ON A ROLL
After a shaky start to the season, the Crystal Lake South Gators have righted the ship and are on a three-game winning streak.
After seeing the Gators (3-2) dismantle Prairie Ridge 66-46 Saturday night, it appears that the end-of-season tilt between Crystal Lake South and Crystal Lake Central (4-1) should be a barn-burner between two of the better teams in the northwest suburban area.
With the return of senior point guard Ethan Breitenstein, who missed the first three games of the year due to a team violation, the South club seems to have its offense operating at peak efficiency.
"We haven't had a game where we've shot really well," said head coach Dan DeBruycker before Saturday's contest. "We're looking to shoot better and be more consistent."
Breitenstein's passing and decision-making, along with the dishes of forward Gavin Rubin, provided easy shots on six of the first seven Gators buckets as the team went on to hit the hoop successfully at over 50 percent for the game, outscoring the Wolves in every quarter.
Crystal Lake South was 15-12 last season, and the tall, senior-laden club returns four starters and has depth and size coming off the bench.
Breitenstein, Rubin and other teammates repeatedly found forward Kevin Rogers, a behind-the-arc specialist, who played mad bomber all night long to the delight of a good-sized Crystal Lake South crowd. For the second game in a row, the Prairie Ridge team found itself dealing unsuccessfully with a 3-point barrage, as Rogers connected on 7 of his 11 long-range attempts, a trio of which came after cross-court passes from his mates.
At one point, Rogers connected on six consecutive treys. He finished with 30 points on the night. Breitenstein was the only other Gators player in double figures with 10 points, but others in the lineup have demonstrated their ability to score in past games. Rubin had 16 in an opening-season loss to St. Francis, while Tyler Kretchmer, who came off the bench Saturday, had 14 in the team's 10-point win over Batavia, which coach DeBruycker calls the team's best victory of the year.
The Gators rely heavily on in-your-face defense; in fact, if the word "pressure" was screamed from the Crystal Lake South bench once, it was implored at least 100 times during the contest
LOSING WITH GRACE
It can oft-times be uncomfortable to interview a head coach following a bad loss.
As I had never met the man, I didn't know what to expect Wednesday night while waiting to talk with Corky Card, the winningest coach in Prairie Ridge High history, after his team had been thoroughly pummeled on its home court. The Wolves went down hard to the visitors from Marian Central Catholic, 69-37 and looked every bit as horrible as the score indicated. It was their third loss of the year, with just one notch in the win column.
Card turned out to be the epitome of a class act. He patiently acknowledged his team's total ineffectiveness that night and explained how three of his key players, including leading scorer, junior Sean Valentine, had just recently returned to the team following the football team's long playoff run.
Even the simple concept of guarding the 3-point arc and a blazing hot shooter like Marian's Jake Everly was beyond the capability of his team thus far, he noted. Everly buried six treys in the first half and the visiting Hurricanes dropped 12 of the long balls down the well against the Wolves.
"Of course, doubling the man and picking him up as soon as he comes over the half court line are a few ways to defend," said Card. "But our guys are not in rhythm yet, either offensively or defensively. We're not ready to make adjustments like that until we get more practice."
"This (losing) is a process we have to go through right now. What we need more than anything is to get in the gym for a long period of time and get into basketball shape," he acknowledged. "A week or so after Christmas we may have a chance to be good. In the meantime, we're stressing attitude and enthusiasm."
As if on cue, Wolves players began exiting the meeting room and did something I've never seen a team do.
As they passed us on the way to the locker room, each player stopped, shook Card's hand, and while looking him in the eye, said the following with earnest sincerity:
"Thank you, coach."
That procession said volumes about Card and the way he related to his players after a tough loss.
Under this coach, Prairie Ridge has had five superb seasons, followed by a 6-23 year, then last year's 18-10 mark.
I can't tell you for sure if the Wolves are going to have a winning season this year. Watching them play Monday night I'd have to honestly say I was less than impressed. But it was extremely gratifying to witness the way coach Card's dignified demeanor was reflected in his team's mature post-game conga line of respect.
The Wolves, hustling like demons the entire way, dropped their fourth game of the year Saturday night, losing at Crystal Lake South 66-46 and are 1-4 as of this writing.
RIGHT TIME FOR KNIGHT TIME?
In the four years Grayslake North has put a varsity hoops team on the court, it has yet to beat its No. 1 rival from Grayslake Central.
After seeing both teams play this year, I'd have to say that this could be the year. As of this writing, the Knights are 5-1 and the Rams of Central are 1-4.
On Thursday night I watched the Knights, trailing at halftime, dominate the second half and take Cary-Grove apart on the Trojans home court for an eventual 57-43 victory in a Fox Valley Conference crossover game.
Three players on Grayslake North impressed me.
- Teddy Ludwick, the co-MVP of the Richmond-Burton Thanksgiving tournament, shoots one of the longest three-balls of any prep player around. Against the Trojans, Ludwick ignited the Knights attack with a trio of long bombs in the third quarter on the way to a game-high 21 points. He locked horns with Cary Grove star Nick Richter most of the night, and held his counterpoint to 10, while getting three steals..
- Sophomore guard A.J. Fish looks unorthodox at times, but he makes things happen when the ball is in his hands. The school's varsity quarterback this year, Fish also spent some of his freshman season on the varsity basketball squad, so he's seasoned as far as playing at the top level is concerned. Six of his eight points came in the game-changing third quarter and he led the team in assists. But Fish will have to improve on his 0 for 5 performance at the free throw line or risk being a negative factor for his club late in close games.
- David Sparks, Grayslake North's 6-foot-6 center is a workmanlike big man who demonstrated good hands and ability to make every shot that he should on a 17-point night.
Knights coach Todd Grunloh, the only head man the team has ever known, has good size he can bring off the bench, with juniors Brendon Rose and Zack Krupp, 6-5 and 6-4 respectively.
Grayslake North, however, did not get any scoring off the bench against Cary-Grove, which, along with its 15 for 25 free-throw shooting, could be a cause for concern.
Although I'd give the Knights a slight edge against their cross-town rivals, they have not slain any major dragons on the way to their fine early record. Meanwhile, Grayslake Central's losing record comes with one- and two-point losses in the tough Mundelein Thanksgiving Tournament. And Jordan Taylor of the Rams is probably the best player on either Grayslake team.
RICHTER NEEDS TO TAKE CHARGE
My first impression of the (2-3) Cary-Grove Trojans is that they are decidedly better team when top returning scorer, guard Nick Richter, is on the court with the ball in his hands.
Even though Richter had a tough shooting night in the team's 14-point loss to Grayslake North, the Trojans seemed much more decisive and confident when the 6-foot-2 guard was controlling the action for his team.
Coach Ralph Schuetzle uses his bench liberally. Against Grayslake North, he used nine players in the first quarter. But during the short stretches Richter was on the bench, Cary-Grove looked directionless.
This is one of those rare stars who needs to be less selfish and put up more shots. The defending Valley Division champs of the Fox Valley Conference do not seem to have many other offensive weapons, at least at this point in the season. Center Ryan Anderson was the team's top scorer with 11, with Richter the only other player in double digits with 10.
It appears that Richter has recovered fully from the leg injury that prematurely ended the seaon for him last year. He showed excellent quickness and anticipation with four steals against the Knights.
The competition gets stiffer for Cary Grove in the immediate future as they travel to Crystal Lake Central on Tuesday to play the 4-1 Tigers.
BELATED CONGRATS TO BARRINGTON
Belated congratulations to coach Bryan Tucker and the Barrington Broncos for capturing the Mundelein Thanksgiving Tournament with their 71-65 Monday win over Bartlett. Senior guard Greg Gerrard was named tourney MVP.
The Broncos won the tourney the hard way, losing their first game, then winning four straight.
I witnessed their unlikely comeback against Grayslake Central, where Gerrard, previously 1 for 5 at the free throw line, gave his team its game-tying and winning points with two made free throws in the final seconds.
The blue collar squad then went out and conquered Lakes, tourney host and favorite Mundelein Mustangs (another one-point win) and Barrington.
I have to admit tht even after seeing them come back against Grayslake Central, I didn't project them as a threat to gobble their way to the whole enchilada. Although they came together big time in that first win, they didn't seem to have the horses to compete against the highly touted Mustangs.
Shows you what absolute confidence and teamwork can pull off.
Top Patch Teams Witnessed thus far on Hardwood Tour:
1. Crystal Lake Central Tigers (4-1)
2. Crystal Lake South Gators (3-2)
3. Buffalo Grove Bison (4-2)
4. Barrington Broncos (4-3)
5. Grayslake North Knights (5-1)