Lake Zurich prepares for playoffs with win over Highland Park

SHARE Lake Zurich prepares for playoffs with win over Highland Park
SHARE Lake Zurich prepares for playoffs with win over Highland Park

It has been a decade since Lake Zurich last reached the 20-win plateau. On Saturday, the Bears finally ended that stretch and prepared themselves for the upcoming state playoffs.

Behind a strong defensive effort in the fourth quarter, the Bears won at Highland Park, 49-46, in a nonconference matchup.

“We have a lot of resolve and we are a balanced team. A lot of different guys stepped up,” Lake Zurich coach Billy Pitcher said. “We had a really good effort.”

Trailing by five heading into the fourth quarter, the Bears (20-8) locked it down on defense. Lake Zurich allowed just nine points in the final eight minutes, including no opposing field goals in the game’s final three minutes. The Bears dominated the glass in the fourth quarter as well, holding Highland Park to just two rebounds.

The strong play on the defensive end of the floor gave Lake Zurich the momentum needed to execute on offense, as it started the fourth quarter on a 13-2 run that helped turn the deficit into a lead the Bears would never relinquish.

“(Highland Park) plays four guards, so we played our four-guard lineup to defend them well,” said Lake Zurich center Will McClaughry, who had 14 points and six rebounds. “We switched every screen to keep the pressure on them. We practiced this a lot, because we had all week to prepare for them.”

On the offensive end, the Bears did a strong job sharing the load. McClaughry led the way, while Mike Travlos added 12 points.

Travlos said the pressure of this type of game, where every possession impacted the final score, will help the Bears moving forward.

“We huddled up a lot of times to get the focus in and to make sure we are really focused in (end-of-game) situations,” the senior shooting guard said. “We start five good players, everyone is crucial. It feels really good to get our 20th win like this.”

The Giants (17-6) had several chances down the stretch, but just couldn’t come through with the baskets when needed. Senior Luke Norcia led Highland Park in scoring with 16 points.

Though the teams are not in the same sectional in the 4A bracket, the game was a representation of potentially what is to come. Pitcher let his players know that before the game, and made it a constant reminder to them in the huddle. By stepping up on defense down the stretch, the Bears showed they are rounding into form as the playoffs approach.

“This is the type of team we will see in the playoffs,” McClaughry said of the Giants. “To win our sectional, this is the type of team we will need to beat.”

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