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St. Rita junior Kaiden Space scored 16 first-quarter points in a win over De La Salle on Friday night. Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Rita junior Kaiden Space scored 16 first-quarter points in a win over De La Salle on Friday night. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Boys Basketball: St. Rita’s young stars too much for De La Salle

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St. Rita junior Kaiden Space scored 16 first-quarter points in a win over De La Salle on Friday night. Photo by Jeff Vorva

By Jeff Vorva
Correspondent

St. Rita’s team of heralded young superstars finally played a home game in front of a crowd with their peers.

The Mustangs feature starting freshman Melvin Bell sophomores James Brown, Morez Johnson and Jaedin Reyna plus junior Kaiden Space and last season, the stands featured family members because of COVID concerns.

But things were rocking and rolling on Friday night as the Chicago Catholic League started up and St. Rita came up with a 68-58 crossover victory over De La Salle.

The next day, the Mustangs (4-2) dropped a 60-51 decision to Thornton in the Chicago Elite Classic at UIC’s Credit Union 1 Arena.

The De La Salle game was special as it gave Mustangs fans a chance to see a young team that is dangerous now and could be a dominant force in the coming years and could even be a state contender.

“This is their first game with fans, and they waited a year for this,” St. Rita coach Roshawn Russell said. “I was really excited for these guys to get an opportunity to play in front of their home fans and their teachers and peers. It was a great environment.”

The Mustangs have never won a sectional title in school history, and it would be surprising if they don’t end that trend in the next three years.

Meanwhile, the team is showing its youthful age as it let De La Salle (2-4) come back from a 17-point deficit in the third to hold a two-point lead with 5 minutes, 26 seconds left in the game. Brown’s basket and a 3-pointer by Space helped give the Mustangs some breathing room.

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Former St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare argues with an official during De La Salle’s loss to the Mustangs. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Space led the Mustangs with 19 points and had 16 of those in the first quarter thanks in part to four 3-point baskets. On a team that has plenty of scoring firepower, he has been valuable as a distributer and had a school-record 16 assists in a wild 111-103 victory over Yorkville Christian in the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions in Washington, Illinois during Thanksgiving week.

But against the Meteors he showed he can explode, too.

“We have a team full of guys where it can be anybody’s night,” he said. “This was my night, and my team did a good job giving me the ball.”

Brown and Reyna each had 16 points for the Mustangs.

The Meteors were led by DaJuan Bates’ 15 points while Marcelius Cohen had 14.

De La Salle was not even able to crack the 40-point mark in its previous two games, scoring 32 in a loss to Conant and 36 in a loss to Curie. But the Meteors were able to get some offense going against the Mustangs.

This is the first time in more than a quarter century that Tom White was not coaching the Meteors. He gave up the position and former St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare took over.

DeCesare is one of the most successful coaches in St. Rita history, winning four of the Mustangs seven titles. In 10 years, he racked up a 185-102 record.

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De La Salle’s Jalen Brown, right, is defended by St. Rita’s Jaedin Reyna Friday night in a Chicago Catholic League crossover game. Photo by Jeff Vorva

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