Fenger beats Solorio as Lonnel Strickland and Donovan Jones square off

Two of the best players in the White Division met up on Wednesday in the consolation bracket of the Public League playoffs.

SHARE Fenger beats Solorio as Lonnel Strickland and Donovan Jones square off
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Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

The Public League playoffs are in full swing. The powerful Red Division teams squared off in quarterfinal games on Tuesday and will garner all the headlines over the next few days with the semifinals on Thursday and Saturday’s televised championship game at UIC.

But basketball continues outside of the super conferences. Solorio and Fenger, two interesting White Division teams, met up in the consolation tournament quarterfinals on Wednesday. The consolation bracket is made up of the 28 from the White Division that didn’t qualify for the main bracket.

Fenger knocked off the host Sun Warriors 67-59. The Titans are good enough to win the tournament and will be a real factor in Class 1A when the state playoffs start.

“We started kind of sluggish at the beginning of the season,” Fenger senior Lonnel Strickland said. “Right now our mindset is that we can’t lose anymore. We have to come up on top because everyone is underestimating us.”

Strickland is one of the best players in the White Division. He’s a four-year varsity player that started at Harlan and transferred to Fenger for his junior year. The athletic 6-4 guard finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds.

The Titans (14-10) dominated early, jumping out to a 22-5 lead. Solorio (11-6) battled back valiantly the rest of the game.

“We stayed together as a team and stayed poised and held them off,” Fenger senior Armani Wilson said. “We listened to coach and moved the ball to the open man and kept our hands up on defense.”

Sun Warriors senior Donovan Jones made two free throws with 3:04 to play that trimmed Fenger’s lead to 59-54. Strickland responded with a quick basket for the Titans.

Fenger shot 6 of 8 from the free-throw line in the final 1:25, good enough to keep Solorio from getting any closer.

“We turned the ball over a lot,” Sun Warriors coach Justin Rhymes said. “Maybe it was just nerves, playing in the elite eight.”

Solorio had 30 turnovers. Fenger attacked defensively from the outset and never let up.

“I played on Westinghouse’s 2002 state championship team,” Fenger coach Stephen Collum. “That kind of defense and forcing turnovers is the way we played and the way I want all my teams to play.”

Wilson scored 17 points for the Titans, he was 5-for-8 from three-point range. Junior Jordan Rowls had 10 points and seven rebounds and Isaiah Hall added eight points.

Fenger will face Northside in the semifinals on Friday.

Solorio’s Donovan Jones (4) works the ball up the court as Fengers’ Justin Graham defends.

Solorio’s Donovan Jones (4) works the ball up the court as Fengers’ Justin Graham defends.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Jones led Solorio with 24 points. He’s averaging 24 points, six assists, and six rebounds. Like Strickland, he’s good enough to start for one of the city’s powerhouse teams. He’s also a four-year varsity player with interest from colleges.

Senior Jeremy Hall had 13 points and 14 rebounds for the Sun Warriors and Christian Sanchez added eight points.

The last two years have been rough for Solorio. They only played a handful of games last season and missed 32 days this season due to COVID. They had to drop out of York’s Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament.

“It’s been very challenging,” Rhymes said. “Keeping the kids motivated during that long layoff was probably the hardest part of coaching this season. But we are getting better every day now and had won six in a row heading into this game.”

Watch the final minute of Fenger at Solorio:

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