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St. Rita takes 5th at Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic

By Steve Millar
Correspondent

St. Rita’s youth was evident in some mistakes the Mustangs made down the stretch in the fifth-place game of the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic.

But the Mustangs’ talent won out in the end.

Sophomore guard Jaedin Reyna went coast-to-coast and scored on a drive to the basket with 2.5 seconds left to lift St. Rita to a 42-41 win over Marian Catholic on Dec. 28.

“We’ve been in some close games,” St. Rita coach Roshawn Russell said. “Some we’ve pulled out, some we haven’t. This was definitely one of our better wins of the season. I think this will help us as we get into our conference schedule and, eventually, into the playoffs.”

Reyna’s heroics came moments after The Mustangs (10-4 entering this week) nearly gave the game away. St. Rita had the ball and a one-point lead with 11 seconds to go but threw away the inbound pass and fouled Marian’s Jeremiah Jones, who hit both free throws to put the Spartans (8-6 entering this week) on top.

“They stayed together,” Russell said. “I was proud of them. We had some uncharacteristic turnovers down the stretch and that’s where the staff has to look and see what we can do better, the players have to see what they can do better in that situation and learn from that.

“But we could have put our heads down and we didn’t. We drew up a play at the end for [Reyna] to get all the way to the basket and he did it.”

Melvin Bell scored 10 points, all in the second half, to lead St. Rita. James Brown added nine points and nine rebounds.

Bell, a freshman, is the youngest player on an inexperienced Mustangs roster. Aside from Bell, St. Rita typically starts one junior in guard Kaiden Space and three sophomores in Reyna, Brown and Illinois recruit Morez Johnson.

“We’re still young and we don’t really have any people to look up to, but I think I’ve been doing good and my teammates push me every day,” Bell said.

St. Rita went 2-1 at the tourney.

The Mustangs rolled to a 63-35 win over Lincoln-Way Central in the first round behind 18 points from Reyna and 17 points and seven rebounds from Bell. Space added 10 points.

They dropped a heartbreaker in the quarterfinals, 61-59 to Homewood-Flossmoor, as Reyna’s potential game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds was off the mark.

Brown led the way with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Reyna scored 14 points, Johnson had 11 and Bell scored 10.

The Mustangs’ consolation game with Maine South was canceled as COVID-19 issues caused the Hawks to withdraw from the tournament. That advanced St. Rita into the fifth-place game.

“We’re disappointed because we wanted to get to the championship game and have a chance to win it, but this is part of growing up,” Russell said. “We know it’s a process and it’s going to take time. We wanted to win the last game. We took care of business.”

Going forward, Reyna is confident the Mustangs can do big things in the new year.

“I definitely think we have a lot of potential,” Reyna said. “We just have to build our chemistry up and come out playing hard all the time. When we’re playing good, we can beat anybody.”

 

Morton pulls double duty
It was a unique holiday tournament experience for Morton, which played in both the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic and the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, going 1-2 in each event.

The tournaments overlapped on two days, Dec. 28 and 29, leaving the Mustangs with two games to play on each day.

“If we have guys here, we don’t mind,” Morton coach Tony Martinucci said. “We’ll play again. It’s like the summer. We’ll play three games. They’re young guys.”

Senior guard Eliseo Gonzalez missed the first game at Hinsdale Central before returning from a two-week absence due to illness. He led the Mustangs (5-7) to a 61-53 win over Lincoln-Way Central on Dec. 28, pouring in 22 points, the scored 14 points later that night in an 80-52 loss to Whitney Young at Proviso West.

“I’ve been out two weeks being sick and this was my second game back,” Gonzalez said after the Lincoln-Way Central win. “I’ve been in the gym getting some shots up and I came out in warmups and felt good with my shot.

“We’re ready for these tournaments. We’re conditioned well. It’s fun for us. It’s like AAU ball with multiple games in a day.”

At Hinsdale Central, Morton lost its opening-round game to Stevenson, 70-46, then advanced to the consolation finals via a no-contest advancement against Oak Forest, which was unable to play because of COVID issues, and the win over Lincoln-Way Central.

The Mustangs fell, 76-47, to Rockford Auburn in the consolation championship game.

At Proviso West, Morton opened with an 87-62 win over Zion-Benton before the loss to Young and a 63-61 defeat to Farragut.

Junior forward Dakari Durham averaged 13 points and 14 rebounds in three games at Proviso West, while Gonzalez averaged 12.3 points.

Richards rebounds
After getting blown out in its first two games at the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic, Richards came back to win its next two, including a second victory of the season over South Suburban Conference rival Oak Forest.

Richards first-year coach Kyle Rathbun missed the first two games of the tournament because of COVID-19 protocols and returned for the two victories.

“We had some guys out and we’re finally starting to get healthy, so that’s helpful,” Rathbun said. “We’re fighting our way back.”

The Bulldogs (8-6) fell, 61-32, to Marian Catholic in their first-round game, despite 13 points from senior forward Deven Jiles, and seven points and 11 rebounds from senior forward Travis Garmon.

The second game was not any better, a 68-32 defeat to Rockford Auburn. Senior guard LaDarius Kelley led Richards with 10 points and Jiles scored nine before an early exit.

After a few days off, Jiles came back with a vengeance in the Bulldogs’ 65-53 win over Glenbard East, pouring in 26 points and pulling down nine rebounds. Senior guard Santiago Rios added 10 points.

“I injured my hip in the second quarter of that second game and didn’t play the rest of the game, so I wanted to come back and help my team,” Jiles said. “It’s also me being a leader and locking in with my team, talking to them individually and as a team, telling them what they need to do to help us win games.”

Jiles saw his team play at a different level against Glenbard East than it had in its previous few games, including a 77-55 loss to Brother Rice in the Bulldogs’ last pre-tournament outing.

“If I had to rate (the Glenbard East game) on a scale of 1-10, I’d rate it at a 7.5,” Jiles said. “Last week, it was a like a 5. We were very mediocre, and I know we can do better than that.”

Rathbun has seen how dominant Jiles can be when he is healthy and stays out of foul trouble.

“Devin is phenomenal,” Rathbun said. “When he’s engaged and locked in, there aren’t many better kids in our conference. I’m happy he’s wearing our colors every night.”

Richards finished the tournament with a 65-58 overtime win over Oak Forest. The Bengals are 11-2 on the season, but 0-2 against the Bulldogs. Richards won, 66-65 in overtime, on Dec. 14.

This time around, Jiles had 17 points and seven rebounds, senior guard Marlon Snipes had 14 points, Rios contributed 13 points and seven rebounds, and Garmon had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Rathbun, a longtime assistant and lower-level head coach at Richards, is not trying to reinvent the wheel as the Bulldogs move forward.

“We want to play the up-tempo style that we’re accustomed to,” he said. “I’ve been around here quite a bit for the last 10 years and we want to mimic that style of play and fine-tune some things, tighten up some things on the defensive end.”

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