Jeremiah Hernandez, Trey Calvin erupt as St. Viator knocks off No. 7 Marian Catholic

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St. Viator and Marian Catholic tip off in front of a packed crowd in Arlington Heights on Friday. Ben Pope/For the Sun-Times

With Trey Calvin healthy again, Jeremiah Hernandez playing the best basketball of his career and a swarming defense capable of shutting down one of the better players in the area, St. Viator believes it must be included again amongst the best teams in the area.

The Lions, ranked No. 20 but poised for a big jump, made a very persuasive argument Friday by knocking off No. 7 Marian Catholic 64-57 in a game that was not as close as the final score sounds.

“It makes a statement that we mean business,” Hernandez said. “They were having a good year and we kind of fell off a bit with Trey’s injury, but when we’re healthy, I think we’re a top-10, top-five team in the state.”

Hernandez dominated all night long in front of a packed crowd of several thousand in Arlington Heights.

The Kent State commit shot 12-for-22 for 27 points and consistently sliced through the defense at will. He scored 18 of those in the second half, including an absurdly athletic layup-and-one with 1:41 left that stretched the hosts’ lead to an insurmountable nine points.

“He’s been with me for three years — I feel like it’s been 15 — but he’s really matured into a fantastic basketball player,” coach Quin Hayes said. “Not just as a scorer but as a passer, a defender, a rebounder — he really does it all. And when things get a little out of wack, he just settles it down and he has a knack for getting that big bucket for us.”

The win puts St. Viator (22-5, 7-1 East Suburban Catholic) in position for its second consecutive conference title, now holding the tiebreaker over Marian Catholic (24-4, 7-1) with one huge road matchup next Wednesday at Benet (20-7, 6-2) left to go.

The Lions temporarily dropped out of the Super 25 in January when Calvin went down and Notre Dame and Waukegan beat them on back-to-back nights. But Calvin, a Wright State comit, returned last week against Nazareth and had his best outing since then on Friday, swishing three triples and finishing with 21 points on an efficient 9-of-15 line.

“We were trying to replace a Division I athlete averaging 16 a game, and one game he had 37, so how do you replace that?” Hayes said. “Having him back is great, it just completes our team.”

Not to be overlooked was the effort of less-heralded junior forward Connor Kochera, who added 11 points while simultaneously holding Marian Catholic star Ahron Ulis — the second-leading scorer in the East Suburban Catholic entering the night — to just eight on 4-of-13 shooting.

Joe Green (16 points, five rebounds), Chris White (12 points, six rebounds) and Elijah Jones (10 points, 10 rebounds) did pick up some of the slack for the visiting Spartans, who notably out-rebounded St. Viator by a 34-17 margin, but they still let an 16-9 second-quarter lead dissolve into a 29-25 halftime deficit and never threatened too dangerously in the latter stages.

Kochera said his focus was to keep the speedy Ulis out of the paint and make him sink off-the-dribble jump shots. Ulis, for the most part, did not do so, allowing the Lions to control momentum throughout.

That thrilled a packed-to-the-rafters student section, which stormed the court as soon as the postgame handshake line commenced. And the party didn’t end there. When Hayes emerged from the locker room 10 minutes later, he had extra reason to avoid the below-freezing air blowing in through an open door.

“As you can tell, I’m drenched,” the coach said, his voice hoarse from yelling but a smile stretched across his face. “They’re a happy group of boys.”

Students and players celebrate after St. Viator’s 64-57 win over Marian Catholic on Friday. Ben Pope/For the Sun-Times

Students and players celebrate after St. Viator’s 64-57 win over Marian Catholic on Friday. Ben Pope/For the Sun-Times

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