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High School Football Class 5A Quarterfinals: Pick-6 spells doom for Nazareth in loss to Fenwick

FB Naz Fuechtman scaled

Nazareth senior lineman Adam Fuechtman pressures Fenwick senior quarterback into an incomplete pass during the Friars’ 28-17 win on Nov. 13. Photo by Steve Metsch

By Steve Metsch
Correspondent

Nazareth made it the Class 5A football quarterfinals with a solid defense and an impressive freshman quarterback.

In the end, however, that defense buckled and that quarterback looked like his age against a Fenwick team with 30 seniors on its roster. Friars senior defensive end Suleiman Abuaqel picked off a Logan Malachuk pass and returned it for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, and the Roadrunners never got any closer as they fell, 28-17, on Nov. 13.

Nazareth’s season ends after a run in which they closed the regular season with four straight wins to make the playoffs, then advanced to the quarterfinals.

Fenwick (10-2) has a semifinal date with Sycamore.

“They’re probably going to win it all,” Malachuk said. “That defense. We hit two bombs, and they were still right there.”

Malachuk was 11-for-21 for 221 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions. None was costlier than the one on the play that opened the fourth quarter.

The Roadrunners (7-5) trailed 21-17 and had first-and-10 at Fenwick’s 39. The fans in La Grange Park were roaring.

Then, Abuaqel intercepted Malachuk’s screen pass over the middle and ran 55 yards the other way to give Fenwick a 28-17 lead with 11:46 to play.

Malachuk never saw Abuaqel

“That was on me,” he said. “I thought I could fit it in there. That was just a bad play all together.”

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Nazareth senior Peter Roll bats a would-be touchdown pass away from Fenwick senior Cameron Coppage. Photo by Steve Metsch

Abuaqel, who notched his first pick-six, said he saw a running back from the corner of his eye.

“So I just slid a little bit to the left, and the ball came right to me,” he added.

Malachuk threw touchdown passes of 44 and 51 yards to junior Justin Taylor. The first gave Nazareth a 7-0 lead, the second cut the deficit to 21-17.

Nazareth led 10-0 early after Zach Hayes kicked a 31-yard field goal with 1:52 left in the first quarter.

Fenwick cut the lead to 10-7 when quarterback Kaden Cobb (21-of-24 for 144) scored from six yards out with 10:11 left in the second quarter.

With 45 seconds left, Cobb found Max Reese with a 19-yard touchdown pass to give Fenwick a 14-10 halftime lead.

Fenwick went up 21-10 with 7:32 left in the third, when Reese took a direct snap and flipped to Cobb, who found wide-open Patrick Durkin from 3 yards out.

Moments later, Malachuk showed what the Roadrunners can look forward to next season.

After Malachuk dropped and recovered the snap at Nazareth’s 49, he lofted the ball to Taylor around Fenwick’s 40. Taylor caught the ball and scored to cut the deficit to 21-17 with 6:48 left in the third quarter.

“We practice that every day,” Racki quipped. “He really grew up a lot this year. A freshman quarterback in the quarterfinals. He shouldn’t be hard on himself.

“Today doesn’t define us. This was a very successful season. After Week 1, I was, ‘Are we in a rebuild?’ When you get to the quarterfinals, that ain’t no rebuild.”

Taylor (4 catches, 113 yards) vowed he and the team will use the loss as fuel for next year.

Fenwick outgained the Road Runners, 368 yards to 282, and made 23 first downs to Nazareth’s nine.

Fenwick had 214 yards rushing. Danny Kent gained113 on 23 carries, and Cobb added 60 on 13. Nazareth managed just 52 yards rushing.

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Nazareth junior running back Kaleb Miller looks for room against Fenwick senior Denium Juette. Miller had 20 yards of five carries. Photo by Steve Metsch

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‘Grizzled’ sophomores help Naz beat Marist

By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

Nazareth’s “grizzled veterans” have won 19 of their first 20 games.

The Roadrunners’ were victorious in a big East Suburban Catholic Conference showdown with Marist, with two sophomores doing most of the damage in a 53-42 win in LaGrange Park on Jan. 19. Nazareth improved to 19-1, 4-0.

The Roadrunners used a lineup with three sophomores, a junior and senior Caroline Workman, plus a sophomore coming off the bench.

Sophomores Ama Dray scored 16 points and Danni Scully added 14 in the win over the RedHawks.

With the exception of a 46-38 home loss to Sycamore (which opened the season 19-0), the Roadrunners just keep winning. They have played a strong schedule and, so far, have mastered it.

Coach Ed Stritzel, who guided his team to a second-place finish in the state in Class 3A in 2017-18 and a third-place finish the following year, managed to get some work in for these players when they were freshmen as they were 8-4 in the COVID-19-shortened 2020-21 season.

“We got to play 12 games last year,” he said. “They all got experience. I call them grizzled veterans now. They have been through wars, and this schedule is unrelenting and is going to get even tougher.”

The Roadrunners, who also get significant contributions from sophomores Olivia Austin and Mary Bridget Wilson, were ranked seventh in the state in Class 3A according to the Associated Press’ Jan. 12 poll. They have upcoming games with Stevenson (ranked second in Class 4A) and Peoria Notre Dame (sixth in Class 3A), along with the ESCC tournament.

Nazareth sophomore Ama Dray goes hard to the basket against Marist. He led the Roadrunners with 16 points. Photo by Jeff Vorva

With Geneseo (ranked first in Class 3A), downstate Morton (ranked second), Sycamore (third) and others in the way, it might be a stretch to expect the Roadrunners to win a state title this year. But look out in the next two seasons.

For those looking ahead, Sycamore and Nazareth are in the same sectional at Kaneland.

Meanwhile, the Roadrunners are going to enjoy this year’s run, not matter where it takes them.

“Coming into it we knew if we worked hard, we would be successful,” Dray said. “We’re playing older than we are.”

The team doesn’t get overconfident. It still has young players who have been known to take on older players during the travel basketball season, but they still get excited for big games on the high school level.

“It’s really fun going out there and being a little nervous for the game,” Scully said. “Even coach is a little nervous before games. But we go out there and do what we do best.”

Against Marist, the Roadrunners took a 31-21 halftime lead but scored just six points in the third quarter and led just 37-33.

But they kicked it into gear in the final eight minutes when junior Grace Carstensen and Dray hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give them some breathing room.

Elise Ward led Marist with 23 points but no other RedHawk had more than seven.

The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for the RedHawks and coach Mary Pat Connelly.

Stritzel said he has respect for Connelly and the Marist program and wonders what could have been for the Chicago school last season.

“I feel bad for her,” he said. “I felt that if there wasn’t COVID, they would have won state last year with [Sydney Affolter]. Mary Pat is doing an amazing job with that team this year.”

Elise Ward of Marist had 23 points in a road loss to Nazareth on Jan. 15. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Postseason Sports Report: Area stars ready for state bowling and dancing

By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

The first two IHSA state tournaments for winter sports will take place this weekend, and an army of area athletes will be competing in both.

The boys bowling and competitive dance championships will be held Friday and Saturday, with the bowlers heading to St. Clair Bowl in O’Fallon and the dancers to Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington.

Bowling
Sandburg was the lone sectional champion as the Eagles won their own tournament at Orland Bowl, firing a 6,515. It was the third sectional title in school history and sixth time the Eagles made it to state as a team, the last coming in 2017.

Sophomore Woodley Dangerfield earned some respect taking first place with a 1,526 six-game series. Junior Gabe Castro fired a 1,328, senior Ryan Fry had a 1,270 and senior John Durkin had a 1,219. Senior Joe Zellinger rolled a 1,001 in five games and sophomore Adam Durkin had a 171 in one game.

Richards’ Danny LaBonte was the lone individual from that sectional to qualify as he tossed a 1,370. He finished 22nd in the state as a freshman in 2018 and fourth in 2019. The state meet was not held in 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns.

At the Glenbard East Sectional at Bowlero in Glendale Heights, Lyons (6,297) finished third and Reavis (6,113) finished sixth to qualify for state.

Lyons junior Tommy Hennessy led the Lions with a 1,363, senior Dylan Holtz had a 1,296 while junior Drew Eascamilla fired a 1,254, senior Jalen Pfaff had a 1,243 and senior Jack Pochocki added a 1,194.

It’s the sixth time the Lions qualified for state.

It’s also the sixth time for Reavis as well. The Rams were led in the sectional by junior Colin Quartuccio had a 1,300, senior Anthony Tanas had a 1,249, junior Ethan DeLuca a 1,211 and senior Nicholas Tanas an 1,151. Senior Sebastian Sandoval rolled a 1,058 in six games and senior Marshall Skuby had a 144 in one game.

Individually, Argo’s Mason Juergens tossed a 1,336 and St. Rita’s Raymone Saffold had a 1,320 to qualify for state.

 

Evergreen Park’s competitive dance team had the best area sectional finish with a runnerup showing in Class 1A at Geneva. Photo courtesy of Evergreen Park

Competitive Dance
In competitive dancing, Evergreen Park took second place in Class 1A of the Geneva Sectional with an 83.12, a fraction behind champion Montini, which had an 83.70. It’s the fourth trip to state for the Mustangs.

Nazareth finished sixth to grab the final qualifying spot with a 78.73. It’s the Roadrunners’ third trip to state.

In Class 2A at the same sectional, Richards placed fourth with an 82.83 and will make its state debut. Marist had a heartbreaking seventh-place finish and missed a state big by a half of a point with an 80.07. East Suburban Catholic Conference foe Benet knocked the RedHawks out with an 80.57

At Deerfield, Lyons qualified for the fifth straight time by finishing fourth in Class 3A with an 87.77. Maine South won with 93.23.

 

Strus tops former coach in Stagg’s win over Sandburg

By Jeff Vorva
Staff writer

Marty Strus has nothing but good things to say about his former high school coach, John Daniels.

“He’s meant a ton to me,” Strus said of the coach he faced off against last week when his Stagg Chargers took on Sandburg. “He meant a lot to me as a player and was a mentor to me when I became a coach and teacher, and now we’re teaching together. I’m happy he’s doing what he wants to do.”

Strus took over for Daniels as the Stagg boys basketball coach in 2017, when Daniels decided to take a break from coaching hoops. Daniels returned to the court this season, coaching at District 230 rival Sandburg.

The two faced off as head coaches for the first time on Jan. 22, when Stagg pulled off a 67-50 victory in at SouthWest Suburban Conference crossover battle in Orland Park.

The game was originally scheduled for December and was postponed, but for Stagg it came at a great time as it snapped a two-game losing streak. The Chargers lost to Bradley-Bourbonnais on Jan. 18 and Andrew on Jan. 21.

Vilius Jurgelevicius led the Chargers (9-10 entering this week) with 17 points, including five 3-point baskets. T.J. Griffin Jr. added 12.

Sandburg (3-16) was led by James White’s 14 points while Om Shukla added 12.

Sandburg coach John Daniels, shown talking to his Sandburg players at the York Tournament in December, was a mentor to Stagg coach Marty Strus and two faced each other on Saturday in Orland Park. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Strus was glad he could face his old coach.

“I think the game of basketball is better with him coaching in it,” Strus said. “The life lessons that he was able to teach — he taught more than just basketball. The more high school students he is able to do that with, the better off we’re going to be.”

Strus appreciates Daniels’ ability to get to know players as people.

“He was always pretty good about having conversations with players and recognizing that when someone is not having a good day, he would try to find out what’s going on,” Strus said. “Maybe there was something going on at home. Maybe it was something at school. The way he still holds relationships with his former players is great.

“If they are playing in college, he’ll go watch them play. The things he has done for me and my brother … that’s what this is all about. Building those relationships.”

Strus’s brother, Max, plays for the NBS’s Miami Heat.

As their record indicates, the Chargers have had their up-and-down moments this season, but started the 2022 portion of the schedule on a big note with an upset of Lockport, 51-48, on the road on Jan. 7. They followed that with wins over Shepard, Lincoln-Way West and Addison Trail before getting roughed up last week by Bradley, 61-41, and Andrew, 55-32.

The Chargers trailed Andrew 37-7 at one point in the third quarter before scoring eight straight points.

Strus is hoping that as the season winds down, his team can return to the form that started the calendar year.

“The past few weeks we were much better about taking care of the ball and defending,” he said. “If you do those two things, I don’t care who you are playing, you will be in any game.”

Stagg’s T.J. Griffin tries to move around Andrew’s 6-foot-10 Arnas Sakenis during Friday night’s game. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Moraine Valley’s Tom Diaz earns All-Conference honors

By Carol McGowan

Tom Diaz is a freshman at Moraine Valley Community College, and is making big strides with their cross country team.

Diaz is also a 2021 graduate of Argo Community High School, and is the first Argonaut to earn All Region honors while pursuing his cross country career.

MVCC’s Men’s an& Women’s Cross Country Head Coach Dimitri Dimizas is pleased with what he sees.

“Tom has been an extremely hard worker since first meeting him. His success here has been a continuation of what he’s learned at Argo (High School), and there’s a lot more room for improvement.”

In earning All-Conference honors, Diaz finished in the top 10 in a conference race. There are runners from five different schools in the Moraine Valley conference, and Diaz finished in fourth place.

Diaz also earned All Regional honors, by finishing in the top 15 in the region race. There are runners from nine different schools in the school’s region and Diaz finished in eighth place.

Not only did Diaz receive All-Conference and All Regional honors, he competed in junior college nationals last month in Richmond, Virginia.

That brought together more than 200 runners representing more than 30 teams from community/junior colleges around the country. Moraine Valley qualified as a team meaning their top seven runners competed in the race, which also allowed Scott Beveridge (also a current MVCC freshman who graduated from Argo) to compete.

Diaz finished in 87th place and Moraine finished in 12th as a team.

Summit native marks decade with the Harlem Globetrotters

By Carol McGowan

Saul White Jr., better known as Flip White to basketball fans, has been with the famed Harlem Globetrotters for just over 10 years, and has no intention of stopping the entertainment he provides for his fans.

White, who grew up in Summit, attended Wharton School and Graves Junior High (now Heritage) in District 104, and is a 2004 graduate of Argo Community High School. After high school, he continued his basketball career at Moraine Valley Community College.

Basketball was always a part of his life.

On his profile for the Globetrotters, he says one of his fondest basketball memories was his father holding him up to the hoop to dunk the basketball when he was a kid.

He told the Desplaines Valley News that his grandparents used to take him to Globetrotters games when he was a young kid, so he always had an interest in the team.

White made a video of him on the basketball court, and put it on YouTube back in 2011. Once it was seen, one person called another, and before you know it, he had an interview with representatives from the Globetrotters.

A couple of days after, he was hired and has been with the team since.

To see him perform on the court would put a smile on anyone’s face. Watching him up on the hoop, literally, is something that needs to be seen. There are plenty of videos that have gone viral of him over the years. His antics on the court, and his ability to play make him a favorite of all who see him.

It’s been quite an experience for White, who has traveled to all 50 states and 65 countries doing what he loves.

Between touring and doing public relations for the team, White keeps busy.

What some may not know, is there are three Globetrotter teams that travel, so they all have either dates to play, or dates to keep in touch with media outlets and promote where their upcoming events will be.

He comes back to visit family in the Summit area when he can, although he now calls Tulsa, Oklahoma, home.

The last time he played in Chicago was in 2019 at the United Center. He loves playing here where his family can come and see him live and in action.

When asked about what he would tell his young fans who hope to someday have a career like his, “I would tell them to never give up on your dreams, you never know what can happen. Don’t ever give up.”

Here’s the skinny: Trimmed-down Lawrence helps Oak Lawn top Evergreen

By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

Oak Lawn senior basketball player Davion Lawrence is 45 pounds lighter than he was last season, but insists his eating habits are the same.

He has, however, changed up his training habits.

Heading into football last fall, Lawrence and a few fellow seniors wanted to get in the best shape they could for their final season.

“We pushed each other from the start of the summer,” Lawrence said. “I just kept it going into the basketball season. All of it is connected. It’s basically a lot of running. I eat the same amount, but I have done a lot of running around the football field and up and down the football field. I feel way lighter and feel better.”

Lawrence and his basketball teammates are feeling pretty good at this point of the season. The Spartans played most of their crossover games in the South Suburban Conference and opened play in the Red division and beat Evergreen Park, 57-52, on the road in a rivalry game Jan. 13.

Because crossover games count in the standings in this league, the Spartans have a commanding lead over the rest of the field. Heading into this week’s action, Oak Lawn was 5-1 in the league and no one else had a winning record.

Lawrence led the Spartans with 14 points. He had one of his shots blocked early in the game, but he kept hammering inside. He had five points in the first quarter to keep his team close as the Spartans trailed 13-11. He added five more in the third quarter as Oak Lawn enjoyed a 24-15 advantage.

“Lawrence worked hard during the summer,” Spartans coach Jason Rhodes said. “The football team focused on speed, and he did a lot of running.

“He’s a centerpiece for our offense. We run a lot of plays to him inside. He did a good job playing against some contact and that was the kind of game it was.”

Oak Lawn’s Ryan Conrad (middle) gets knocked to the ground on a shot that went in for a basket in the second quarter of the Spartans’ road win over Evergreen Park. Photo by Jeff Vorva

With Lawrence making trouble inside, the Spartans’ outside game was able to flourish as well. Oak Lawn buried nine 3-pointers, all in the second and third periods. Gavin Butler finished with 11 points and sank three treys. Ayham Salah had nine points on a trio of 3-pointers. Nicco Reyes sank a pair of 3-pointers in the third and finished with seven points on the night.

The Spartans entered the week with a 13-4 overall mark. They were scheduled to host Argo Tuesday. Richards, which was 3-4 in the league, has the best shot at overtaking the Spartans. The crosstown rivals are slated to square off on Friday at Richards.

Evergreen Park (9-8, 2-5) headed into this week with a five-game losing streak and hopes to finally get that 10th victory at Argo on Friday.

The Mustangs lost to Lemont by 27, Oak Forest by 32 and Hillcrest by 24 heading into the Oak Lawn showdown, but kept this game close throughout.

In a near-packed house, the Mustangs gave their fans a lot to yell about, leading throughout most of the first half and taking a 28-27 halftime advantage.

Jalen Shepard led the Mustangs with 14 points while Malik Kelly had 10. Each bombed in three 3-pointers.

“Getting better is no moral victory,” Mustangs coach Jim Sexton said. “But we’re playing more possessions the way we want to and against a team like Oak Lawn, you can’t have lapses.

“The big guy (Lawrence) is tough, and we don’t have that kind of size. We didn’t rebound well enough, and we lost too many loose balls. They had more possessions because of rebounds and loose balls.”

 

The Red Line

After last weekend’s action, here are the South Suburban Conference Red division standings, which include crossover results with the Blue division:

Oak Lawn 5-1

Richards 3-4

Argo 2-5

Evergreen Park 2-6

Reavis 0-5

Shepard 0-6

Eisenhower 0-8

Malik Kelly celebrates a 3-point basket in front of his Evergreen Park fans against Oak Lawn. Photo by Jeff Vorva

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