Henricksen: Regional rewind and title takes

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Thornton’s Derron Bromfield (0) finds a lane to lay in a bucket against Bloom, March 3, 2017 Allen Cunningham / for Chicago Sun-Times

While Michael O’Brien covered the game and wrote about the performance of star Alonzo Verge, it bears repeating: Thornton is a legitimate threat against anyone it plays when the 6-2 guard plays at the level he did in the win over Bloom.

We saw what he was capable of doing during his sophomore campaign at Willowbrook two years ago, and we’ve seen glimpses of it again this year as a senior at Thornton. He’s a game-changer with the potential to be an individual wrecking-ball for any opposing team’s hopes in any big game this March.

This was the type of effort that has been far and few between from our state’s top players this season, especially from those in the Chicago area. But Verge’s 43-point showing in a regional final over Bloom certainly helps his case for Player of the Year in the Chicago area.

➤ There wasn’t a conference in the Chicago area that made a bigger statement Friday night than the DuPage Valley.

While Wheaton South and Naperville North were two teams who grabbed headlines during the regular season, it was Lake Park and Wheaton North who propped up the DVC a little more with surprising regional championships. The DuPage Valley will have four teams playing in sectional semis after Wheaton South and Naperville North took care of business and Lake Park stunned Prospect in overtime and Wheaton North shocked Benet.

Wheaton North was an overlooked yet dangerous team, one that won its final seven regular season games. Benet found out the hard way. The Falcons won 21 games in the regular season and feature a pair of shooters in Rowan McGowan and Luke Anthony who have combined for 140 three-pointers.

Lake Park was a team under .500 when regional play began, had lost two of its last three and six of nine to close out the regular season. Plus, the Lancers were playing on Prospect’s home floor. That’s a stunner.

➤ The Chicago Public League –– both powers and underdogs –– didn’t mess around Friday night.

Curie crushed Proviso East 69-44. Simeon played without Kezo Brown, who was out with the stomach flu, and beat a very good Marian Catholic team 56-43.

Kenwood walloped Proviso West 69-45, Morgan Park and Bogan won by 17, North Lawndale by 29, Farragut by 14, Young by 12 and Brooks pulled out a 49-43 win over Vocational.

Foreman, a No. 11 seed, upset Ridgewood 42-29 for a Class 3A regional title, while Westinghouse won its first sectional championship since 2006.

And finally, two Class 2A Public League teams, Orr and Collins, advanced to a super-sectional with sectional title game wins. Orr knocked off talented DePaul Prep while Collins edged St. Mel.

It’s still relatively early along the state tournament trail, but it’s shaping up to be quite a March haul for city teams in 2A, 3A and 4A.

➤ How about the comeback of the night? Niles Notre Dame closes out the game on a 16-0 run to stun Niles North 55-52.

You forget how many big, close games this team has played in recent years. Remember, this was a super-sectional team last year that lost to eventual state champ Curie, 65-62, and beat Loyola 52-50 in the regional final.

There was the 49-47 regional championship win over Deerfield two years ago, followed by the heartbreaking 78-77 loss to Stevenson and Jalen Brunson in the sectional semis.

It’s pretty remarkable how many down-to-the-wire finishes –– when the stakes are at the highest –– this program has played in recent years.

➤ I really thought Brother Rice was a vulnerable high sectional seed. I still do. That doesn’t mean it’s not deserving of the No. 2 seed in the Thornwood Sectional, and it doesn’t mean it won’t advance to the point it’s projected.

But this is a team that does and will continue to rely so heavily on the senior duo of Josh Niego and Mike Shepski. It was Niego’s turn in Friday’s hard-fought win over H-F as he scored 27 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter.

Coach Bobby Frasor has done a masterful job this season in getting the Crusaders to this point –– 25 wins and a regional championship –– and taking full advantage of the Niego-Shepski tandem. These aren’t break-you-down jitterbug types; Frasor does a great job getting those two shots in the halfcourt, even against good teams.

If the expected Brother Rice-Simeon sectional championship takes place this week, I can’t help but think back to maybe one of the top five high school basketball games I’ve ever been to back in 2005.

That’s when Frasor, then a senior star for coach Pat Richardson, took down mighty Simeon and Derrick Rose, then a sophomore, in a dramatic, double-overtime sectional championship win. The two overtimes were played without Rose and Frasor, who both fouled out in regulation. But the crowd, intensity and drama in that St. Xavier gym left a lasting impression on the Hoops Report.

➤ Of the 32 Class 3A regional title games played Friday night, 14 were decided by double digits and 11 by 15 or more points.In Class 4A there were a whopping 19 regional championships won by double digits, including 11 by 15 or more points.

So that’s 22 of 64 regional championship games (35 percent) decided by 15 or more points.

The average victory margin among all the 3A and 4A regional title teams was 12 points a game.

➤ When the season began you just knew Waukegan would continue to improve as much as anyone over the course of the season. When you rely on three talented sophomores there are going to be obvious growing pains along the way.

Then some nagging midseason injuries slowed down the development and cohesiveness of coach Ron Ashlaw’s team. Remember, this was a team that lost three straight in January, including a 59-37 loss to regional final opponent Stevenson.

Ranking the Bulldogs No. 15 in the preseason was a little aggressive on my part, but any way you looked at it –– as long as Waukegan was healthy –– this was going to be a dangerous team by the time March rolled around. Now it has a regional plaque and a sectional semifinal date with Notre Dame this week.

Carson Newsome, a senior headed to UW-Milwaukee, was one of those players who dealt with nagging injuries during the regular season. But the 6-4 wing was huge in the regional title win over Stevenson as he scored a game-high 33 points, while sophomore Bryant Brown (17.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.1 bog) continues to play his stat-sheet-stuffing way.

➤ It was great to see a couple of tough-luck teams enjoy some feel-good Friday night.

Larkin beat Bartlett 71-51 for its 18th victory of the season and, more importantly, capture a regional championship. The season-ending injury to star Christian Negron was devastating, so for a team to rise up and be able to celebrate a regional championship after being hit so hard with that news when the season began is poetic justice.

Then there is Westinghouse. The Warriors finished at the bottom of the state’s toughest conference, often coming up just short against the city’s heavyweights.

Coach Bill Curry’s team finished 1-9 in the Public League’s Red-West, but it lost to Orr 58-55 and 60-55. The Warriors lost to North Lawndale 63-62 and 44-41. They played Young tough in a 68-57 loss and even went toe-to-toe with 4A power Bolingbrook in a 53-46 loss in December.

But all of those setbacks certainly helped fuel a regional title run, culminating with a 60-54 championship game win over Marshall. This is the first regional championship at Westinghouse since 2006 and the first since moving into the new building and in the selective enrollment era.

Westinghouse senior Coreyon Rushin continues to be an under-appreciated player. The 6-6 forward has put up numbers –– he averages 17 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks a game –– and is an underrated passer.

➤ If the basketball fans in Joliet thought that Feb. 18 showdown between Joliet West and Joliet Central was big, fun and exciting –– Joliet West won 51-49 –– just wait until Wednesday night at Lincoln-Way East.

➤ The biggest week from any individual player came from a sophomore: E.J. Liddell of Belleville West. The 6-6 big man poured in 43 points in leading Belleville West to a regional semifinal win over Belleville East and Illinois recruit Javon Pickett. He then followed it up with a 34-point performance to win a regional title over East St. Louis and the state’s top prospect, Jeremiah Tilmon.

Liddell began the season as the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 4 ranked player in the Class of 2019.

➤ That regional title drought at Grant is over.

I’ve been a Grant basketball believer since including Coach Wayne Bosworth’s team in the Hoops Report’s preseason Top 65 and watching the Bulldogs play North Lawndale so tough in defeat back in November.

Now this John Kerr-led team has won the program’s first regional championship since 1989 and has the most wins since 1987.

➤ Speaking of regional droughts, Naperville North ended one as well. The Huskies, the No. 4 seed in the Hinsdale Central Sectional, beat Addison Trail for its first regional title since 2006.

The 11-year drought included upset losses as the higher-seeded team, including last year’s regional championship game loss to York as the No. 3 seed and a regional semifinal loss to Oswego as a No. 5 seed in 2012.

So getting past this regional championship hurdle was a big step for the Huskies and a monkey off their back.

Now it’s a third matchup with DVC foe Wheaton South in the sectional semifinal, a team Naperville North has a distinct size advantage over with 6-6 Mitch Lewis, 6-7 junior Chris Johnson and 6-5 sophomore Tom Welch. Lewis scored 21 in the regional championship, with Johnson adding 13 and Welch with 14.

➤ The Wheaton North-Hinsdale South sectional semifinal isn’t exactly a clash of the titans –– neither team has been ranked all season –– but it guarantees at least one low-seeded team to be playing in a sectional championship next Friday night.

Lake Park is the lowest seeded team remaining in Class 4A at No. 11, while Hinsdale South is a No. 10 seed and both Wheaton North and Waukegan No. 6 seeds.

Overall, Antioch, which is now 9-17 after three regional victories, is still alive in Class 3A as a No. 12 seed. Antioch beat Noble Street Charter, Alcott and Carmel to win a regional title.

There’s Foreman, a No. 11 seed, still playing at 9-17, St. Viator at 12-16, Westinghouse at 12-14, Sycamore at 13-15, Morris at 13-16, Glenbard South at 14-14 and Rich Central at 11-17.

That makes a total of eight teams in 3A who will be playing sectional games without a winning record. There isn’t a single 4A sectional team with a losing record.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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