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O’Brien: Battled-tested St. Joseph survives Riverside-Brookfield

There is almost no downside to playing a rugged, challenging schedule in high school basketball. Every team makes the playoffs, so the season is simply about improving as much as possible between November and March.

St. Joseph has played one of the state’s most difficult schedules. They’ve traveled to Massachusetts, played several nationally-ranked teams and a dozen Super 25 squads. The Chargers have won some of those games and lost some, but they’ve improved every week.

On the flip side is Riverside-Brookfield. The Bulldogs play in the Metro Suburban-West, not the most talented basketball conference. They’ve done their best to stack the schedule with talented teams in non-conference play, but an early exit from the York Tournament has kept the overall schedule degree of difficulty low.

Saturday in Batavia it was the team that had fought more wars, St. Joseph, the stepped up in the final few possessions to grab the win. The No. 9 Chargers beat the No. 21 Bulldogs 53-50 at the Batavia Night of Hoops.

Riverside-Brookfield led by three with 4:31 to play. St. Joseph center Nick Rakocevic responded with back-to-back buckets to but the Chargers (14-6) back in the lead. Then his slam with 2:02 to play provided the winning margin.

Riverside-Brookfield senior Sklyer Nash had a couple long-range three-point attempts at the end to tie, but neither fell.

Rakocevic finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds. He’s had a double-double in all 20 of St. Joseph’s games this season.

“I’m just making sure to aggressive,” Rakocevic said. “I have to do a lot for this team, we have a lot of young guys. I have to do everything I can for us to win. Having games like 21 and 14, I have to do that every night on a consistent basis.”

Sophomore Joffari Brown came up huge for the Chargers in the second half. He scored all 14 of his points in the final two quarters.

“(Coach Gene Pingatore and Rakocevic) told me they needed me in the second half,” Brown said. “They said for us to win this game I had to step up. We’re just used to this now. There’s a lot of competition every game, we are just playing through it.”

Jalen Clanton led Riverside-Brookfield (15-4) with 17 points and five rebounds. Henry Trelenberg added 13 points and Mark Smith scored 12 and grabbed five rebounds.

The Bulldogs lost a close game to No. 2 Fenwick last week. Riverside-Brookfield coach Tom McCloskey is still fitting some new pieces together. Nash, a transfer from Young, has taken over a major role on the team and Trelenberg missed most of the first half of the season.

The game ended with a scary incident. St. Joseph point guard Marquise Walker, one of the state’s most promising freshmen, collapsed as he was walking to the bench with one second left to play. He eventually left on a stretcher and was taken to the hospital.

According to his father, Chikosi Walker, he received an elbow to the head and was having problems with his vision and may have a concussion.

Chikosi Walker said his son was coherent and able to walk once he reached the hospital. The first thing Marquise asked his dad was if the Chargers had won the game.