O’Brien: Fenwick handles Hillcrest, looks poised for deep playoff run

SHARE O’Brien: Fenwick handles Hillcrest, looks poised for deep playoff run
SHARE O’Brien: Fenwick handles Hillcrest, looks poised for deep playoff run

Each Fenwick senior had their favorite high school memory read aloud before the game on Thursday in Oak Park. A typical senior night tradition.

Quinn Fisher’s favorite high school memory: “Getting yelled at by Coach Malnati.”

Malnati has an animated presence on the sideline and Fisher is certainly one of his regular targets. Last season Malnati seemed to spend most of the game on Fisher’s case.

“It was kind of surprising to me last year,” Fisher said. “I had really never been yelled at before.”

As good as Mike Smith has been for Fenwick this season, Fisher is arguably the most improved player for the Friars. It’s possible all that attention paid off.

“I think it has helped me,” Fisher said. “Sometimes it is frustrating but overall it helps me, just gets me into the right mindset. He says he does it because he cares about me. Sometimes that’s hard to see but I believe him. He’s definitely pushed me to be better. He’s always telling me to be confident and shoot the ball.”

No. 2 Fenwick beat No. 20 Hillcrest 66-55. That gives the Friars the best record in school history at 25-2.

Smith led the way with 27 points. Jacob Keller had 12 points and six rebounds and Fisher scored 12. Mike Ballard, who had missed the last few games with an ankle injury, returned to the lineup but the Friars played without starting forward Jamal Nixon.

“[Nixon] is our toughest interior guy and he’s been sick,” Malnati said. “It’s an emotional game when it is senior night. We just didn’t play great and we’ve been playing really, really well.”

The Friars have been soundly beating ranked teams while missing key members of the starting lineup. That’s a sign of a great team heading into the playoffs. Malnati wasn’t taking the bait when asked where this team ranks against all of the teams he’s coached over the years.

“I’ll tell you after the state tournament,” Malnati said. “We have played together a long time. They find the open guy, they trust each other. They find ways to win and that’s the mark of a good team.”

Fenwick’s bench was supposed to be the weak link. They’ve established themselves as a capable bunch over the last few weeks. Jay Militello had four points and five rebounds and Charlie Boyle added six points and five boards.

“When they get a shot to play they’ve been ready for us, which has been great,” Fisher said.

Junior Marcus Garrett led Hillcrest (19-6) with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Senior Stephon King scored 13 and Tylen Williams added eight points and 12 rebounds.

The Hawks won the South Suburban Blue for the 28th consecutive year. They didn’t lose to any bad teams this year, but fell short against the area’s elite teams. Garrett returns next season and will be one of the state’s top players. Freshmen Isaac Stanback and sophomore Robert Harvey turned in impressive seasons. The Hawks should make a deep run in the Class 3A Streator Sectional.

For Fenwick, the goal is simple. This is the school’s best team since 1998 and the victory over Simeon showed that a Class 3A state title is possible.

“[Malnati] said the playoffs are dessert,” Fisher said. “But obviously state is the goal for us. The regular season is great but it is all about what you do in the playoffs. That’s what teams are remembered for.”

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