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Evergreen Park’s Bakari Nelson (right) tries to stop Oak Forest’s 6-foot-10 Robbie Avila Friday night. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Evergreen Park’s Bakari Nelson (right) tries to stop Oak Forest’s 6-foot-10 Robbie Avila Friday night. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Boys Basketball: Evergreen Park riding out toughest stretch of schedule

By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

So, how did Evergreen Park get to 9-6 over in its first 15 games?

The Mustangs took a rollercoaster ride.

In a nutshell: They started the season with four consecutive wins, lost the next three, won five straight and then dropped three in a row.

The latest three-game losing streak was painful as they dropped a tight 58-57 decision to Hoffman Estates in the Immaculate Conception tournament on a last-second layup on Dec. 30. That was followed by a pair of South Suburban Conference crossover road losses to Lemont (84-57) on Jan. 4 and Oak Forest (72-41) on Jan. 7.

Heading into this week’s action, Hoffman Estates, Lemont and Oak Forest had a combined 34-10 record, so it’s not like the Mustangs were losing to cupcakes. But the Mustangs want to stop the bleeding and stop it quickly. Unfortunately for them, the bandages may stay in storage for another week.

The Mustangs were scheduled to end the crossover portion of their conference schedule on Tuesday, when they hosted arguably the best of the 14 SCC teams in Hillcrest (13-2, with one loss being a 51-48 setback to Glenbard West, the AP’s No. 1 Class 4A team in Illinois). On Thursday night, the Mustangs open the South Suburban Red season against Oak Lawn (11-4).

SEXTON scaled

EP sophomore Nolan Sexton brings the ball up the court in a loss at Oak Forest. Photo by Jeff Vorva

The key for coach Jim Sexton is to keep his troops’ heads up after that hellacious part of the schedule, because the remaining 10 games features seven opponents with sub-.500 records.

“We knew this was going to be a tough stretch,” Sexton said. “We played pretty well early in the year. We thought we were a little more prepared for this, so we just have to get back to the drawing board at practice.

“I want us to try to improve every possession that we can. I know that sounds cliché. We have to shoot the ball better. There were times we would get the ball to the middle and to wide-open shooters, and missed layups and uncontested 3-point shots. Obviously, when you make some shots it cures a lot of ills.”

If first impressions mean much, the Mustangs were able to open strong in both the Lemont and Oak Forest games.

They trailed Lemont 23-20 after the first quarter, but Lemont’s Nojus Indrusaitis (29 points), Rokas Castillo (19) and his twin brother Matas Castillo (16 points) proved to be too much of a three-headed monster for Evergreen Park to handle.

Bakari Nelson led the Mustangs with 17 points while Nolan Sexton added 15.

Sexton hit a pair of 3-pointers and Nelson added five points to give the Mustangs an 11-7 lead with 4 minutes, 25 seconds left in the first quarter against Oak Forest, but the Bengals went on a 17-point run to put the game away. Nelson finished with 14 points and Sexton had 10.

Indiana State recruit Robbie Avila had 20 points for the Bengals and Fred Robinson had 19 points, including 13 in that 17-point run.

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Domingo Feliciano (left) of Evergreen Park looks for a teammate in the Mustangs’ loss to Oak Forest. Photo by Jeff Vorva

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