Glenbard West’s seniors have been playing together for years. The players have earned college scholarships, and the Hilltoppers have received all the preseason hype that accompanies the top-ranked team in the area.
But because of factors beyond its control, this collection of Glenbard West players never had experienced a truly memorable high school basketball moment until Sunday in Norridge.
Ridgewood coach Chris Mroz’s annual shootout is a regular stop on the calendar for diehard fans. It’s always held on the Sunday after the Chicago Elite Classic, so the crowd generally features the diehards and some parents.
That wasn’t the case Sunday, though. Mroz lined up one of the best games of the season: Glenbard West vs. Glenbrook South. Both teams have multiple players signed with Division I colleges, and both are ranked among the top five.
The gym was packed, and the game lived up to the hype. The Hilltoppers held on to win 57-54.
The No. 5 Titans had two shots to tie the score at the end. After Cornell recruit Cooper Noard missed a three-pointer, Elon recruit Nick Martinelli grabbed the rebound but missed a turnaround three-pointer at the buzzer.
‘‘Playing in a game like this was good for us because we definitely took a lot of punches in the gut,’’ Glenbard West senior Braden Huff said. ‘‘And we aren’t used to that, so it was good to get that under our belt.’’
Noard scored 21 points and was 7-for-16 from three-point range. His shooting helped Glenbrook South (6-1) get back into the game after the Hilltoppers (6-0) jumped out to a 33-14 lead in the second quarter.
Paxton Warden, the only Glenbard West starter not committed to a college, scored 20 points.
‘‘He’s always there, ready to rise to the occasion,’’ Huff said of Warden. ‘‘That might have been a surprise to some other people, but we all expect that out of him. The biggest strength of this team is that we are well-balanced.’’
Huff, a Gonzaga recruit, finished with 17 points and Bobby Durkin with seven. Ryan Renfro had six points and five rebounds for the Hilltoppers.
Warden was 4-for-5 from three-point range, but his biggest basket was a tip-in with 2:26 left that gave Glenbard West a 56-52 cushion.
‘‘It’s definitely motivation [being uncommitted to college],’’ Warden said. ‘‘All my teammates deserve whatever offers they’re getting. I’m not trying to be selfish, but I’m trying to prove a point.’’
Glenbrook South isn’t as experienced as the Hilltoppers. Noard and Martinelli (16 points) are two of the best players in the area, but juniors Rodell Davis Jr. and Gaven Marr also start. The Titans get another big test Thursday at New Trier.
Glenbard West visits Yorkville Christian on Friday and plays Hillcrest in the Team Rose Classic at Mount Carmel on Saturday. The Hilltoppers have a loaded schedule with many more challenges to come, but they passed the first one.
‘‘That was a great game,’’ Glenbard West coach Jason Opoka said. ‘‘Great environment. We’re just so thankful to have the opportunity to play with fans against one of the best teams in the state. They shot it really well, and we battled. I thought our boys showed their toughness.’’
Watch the final minute of Glenbard West vs. Glenbrook South: