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O’Brien: West beats Central in Battle of Joliet

Rivals isn’t the right word to describe the relationship between Joliet West and Joliet Central. The dynamic isn’t the same as New Trier vs. Evanston or Waukegan vs. North Chicago.

The relationship is more brotherly. That’s because six seasons ago the two schools shared one athletic program. The Steelmen and Tigers combined in 1994 for financial reasons. It led to an ultra-successful 17-year run that included top locally and nationally ranked teams that won five sectional titles and made three state tournament appearances.

The programs split in 2011. They play twice a year in the regular season, but Wednesday was the biggest game between the schools in several generations, a Class 4A sectional seminal at Lockport.

West won the regular season meetings and held on for a 47-44 win over Central on Wednesday thanks to a clutch fourth quarter from 6-5 junior Tabyous Casterberry.

“He’s our emotional leader,” Joliet West coach Nick DiForti said. “He’s the ultimate teammate. When he gets us going our fans feed off of it, even the coaching staff feeds off of it. When he’s quiet you know something is wrong.”

Casterberry led the Tigers (20-9) with 11 points and seven rebounds. He had several clutch boards in the final minutes, scored two big buckets and took a key charge.

“We have a goal for 20 charges,” Casterberry said. “Reward is Chicken-N-Spice at the end of the year. So when I saw him coming I was thinking ‘I’m getting Chicken-N-Spice, I’m getting Chicken-N-Spice.’”

Junior guard Teyvion Kirk scored 10 and grabbed nine rebounds and junior Trevian Bell added seven points and eight boards. The Tigers led by eight points with 1:04 to play, but a series of mental mistakes let the Steelmen (16-13) get back in the game.

“We just need to find our maturity down the stretch,” Kirk said. “We get a lead and then we start to get complacent. That’s when teams get back in the game.”

Malik Fuller, one of the area’s top rebounders, finished with eight points and nine rebounds. Senior Treveon Ward led Central with 14 points and nine boards.

“Oh man it is tough [rebounding against Fuller],” Casterberry said. “He is always coming at you, bodying you up, talking trash, grabbing you.”

Kirk missed two free throws with nine seconds left to play and West leading 45-44. Joliet Central junior Jose Grubbs (12 points, eight rebounds) grabbed the board and headed downcourt with a chance to win it for the Steelmen. Joliet West sophomore Mike Smith managed to steal the ball at half court and convert a layup at the other end to seal the win.

“I was so down after I missed the free throws,” Kirk said. “Then I saw a bunch of guys around [Grubbs] and got some hope and luckily Mike got the steal.”

Joliet West will play Oswego in the sectional final on Friday.