Chicago Christian edges Wilmington in regional semifinal

  • Written by Jason Maholy

By Jason Maholy
Sports Editor

Chicago Christian advanced to the Class 2A Seneca Regional title game virtue of a 5-4 win over Wilmington on May 15.

The Knights, the No. 4 seed in the Beecher Sectional, will face host Seneca for the regional crown on Saturday, May 19. Seneca, the No. 2 seed, topped Peotone, 5-4. The victor will play the either Prairie Central or Bishop McNamara in the sectional semifinal on May 23.

Heading into the postseason, Chicago Christian won 20 of its last 21 games, including 19 in a row. The winning streak ended when the Knights fell to Burlington Central to lose for first time in more than 40 days.

The Rockets topped the Knights, 5-3, on May 12. Knigths junior center fielder Brooke Veldman clubbed a two-run home run and scored a run. Bethany Regnerus struck out six and allowed two earned runs, and took the loss.

Christian promptly started a new winning streak with an 11-1 victory over Momence in the third-place game. Senior ace Hannah Dieck went the distance, striking out nine and allowing no earned runs. While improving her record to 16-0. Dieck helped her own cause with three hits, including a triple, and four RBI and a run scored.

Dieck led the Knights to victory in the first round with an 11-strikeout performance in a 1-0 win over Aurora Central Catholic.

Christian opened the week by beating Reavis, 13-1, on May 7. Dieck threw a complete game one-hitter and struck out 10 Rams. Junior third baseman Abby Sytsma had two hits, including a double, and four RBI.

The Knights defeated Elmwood Park, 6-4, the following night. Regnerus pitched four innings to earn her seventh win, and Dieck recorded the final 12 outs for her second save of the season. Dieck also had two hits, including a triple, and three RBI and a run scored.

The Knights entered Tuesday's IHSA Class 2A Seneca Regional against Wilmington at 22-4.

An offense that had been rolling to the tune of more than 11 runs a game found the going get tough last week, as the Astros dropped two games to conference rivals, and another in a South Suburban Conference crossover. Shepard enters Tuesday's game with Richards at 17-7 overall and 13-4 in the South Suburban Red.

Oak Lawn defeated Shepard, 5-2 in eight innings, on May 11, for just the Astros second home loss of the season.

With the game knotted at two and Oak Lawn batting in the top of the eighth, a Shepard errorallowed the go-ahead run to score for Spartans.

Junior Angelica Rafacz earned with the victory for Spartans. She surrendered two runs on six hits over eight innings, striking out six and walking none. Bridget McDermott took the loss for Shepard. The junior ace surrendered five runs on eight hits over eight innings, striking out 11 and walking one.

Katie Justin led Shepard with two hits. Rafacz and senior infielder Hailey Melvin each had two hits for Oak Lawn.

The Astros had beaten Argo, 4-3, on May 10. Shepard junior Emily Edmiston had two hits, inclusing a double, and two RBI, and senior Cassidy McCarthy had two hits and an RBI.

Argo got on the board in the second inning when Brooke Palmer singled in a run, but Shepard took the lead for good with two runs in the fourth inning. In the fourth, Edmiston doubled on a 1-1 count, scoring two runs.

McDermott got the win, going three innings while allowing four hits and no runs while striking out three and walking one.

Mackenzie Serefono took the loss for Argo. She lasted six innings, allowing nine hits and four runs while striking out two and walking none.

Mariah Martinez started the game in the circle for Shepard. Shethrew four innings, allowing three runs on seven hits, striking out five and walking none.

The Astros' first home loss of the season came against Evergreen Park on May 8. Both teams were strong in the circle, but Evergreen Park was just a little bit stronger at the plate.

Hailey Getz shut out the Astros, allowing six hits and while striking out eight and walking none. The blanking was the second time Shepard has been shut out this season.

McDermott struck out six and walked none, and surrendered two runs while also going the distance.

McDermott, Katie Justin, Brooke Becker, Jessica Coyle, Becca Harkala and Edmiston each had one hit for the Astros.

Haley Ortell went 2-for-3 at the plate for Evergreen Park in hits.

Morgan Taylor stepped up for Marist

  • Written by Jason Maholy


RedHawks senior earns The Regional-Reporter's player of year honor

By Jason Maholy
Sports Editor

There was a moment prior to the start of the 2017-18 basketball season that Morgan Taylor said was “gut-check time” for him and his Marist teammates.

Gone from the team that won 27 games the previous season were graduates Justin Brown and Bobby Hawkinson, who had been the team's top two interior defenders; and reigning East Suburban Catholic League Player of the Year Maurice Commander and Chase Robinson, who transferred to Curie and Riverside-Brookfield, respectively. The RedHawks would also have to integrate into the starting lineup Jack Ellison, a senior transfer from Chicago Christian, who while talented would have to build chemistry with his new teammates.

Taylor, showing the maturity of a young man who had played on the varsity squad since his sophomore season, knew there was nothing he could do about what was lost.

“The only thing I could do, personally, was focus on the team we had here that would be playing this season,” Taylor said. “It was gut-check time as to how we wanted the season to go, and we said we wanted to have one of the best seasons (in Marist history).”

Taylor and his teammates worked to improve their games and chemistry during summer league contests and practices, and once the winter season began devoted themselves to early-morning workouts. Individually, Taylor worked on the holes in his game that limited him during his junior season, and improved on the things he already did do well.

“Free throws, jump shots, defense – it was just working on trying to be the best two way player I had to be for the team to win,” he said. “It was just a lot of effort put in, overall. A lot of long games at the gym over the summer... We knew how much work we'd have to put in to be successful.”

And the RedHawks went on to have one of the best seasons in school history, matching their 27 wins from the prior season and advancing to a Class 4A sectional final, where they came within a couple plays of pulling off what would have been an epic upset of a Simeon team stacked with Division I recruits.

For his contributions – which included standout play and embracing the role of team leader – Taylor is The Regional/Reporter 2018 Player of the Year. The senior guard averaged 21.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.3 steal per game, while shooting 53 percent of his shots from the field and 70 percent from the charity stripe. He earned ESCC co-player of the year honors, and finished his career as Marist's single-season record-holder in points (698) and sixth in career points (1,212).

But Taylor never focused on stuffing the stat box or on his individual accomplishments. His only goal was to help his team win.

“I try to focus on the team, and by doing that I had a lot of personal success, but my main goal was just focusing on the team and doing whatever the team needed,” he said.

The unity he and his teammates forged throughout the season, and the success to which that cohesion contributed, is something he will always cherish.

“Coming into the season we weren't talked about a lot, but we couldn't really focus on that, as a team we made the decision to focus on ourselves and just continued to get better throughout the season, and just have the confidence in each other and show what we could do.”

Taylor has been playing organized basketball since he was 5 years old, and in his earliest days on the hardcourt developed his game playing at the Blue Island Recreation Center. The game had always been his favorite sport, and upon entering high school he realized it was what he wanted to do and at what he wanted to excel.

He did just that, playing on varsity as a sophomore and gaining valuable experience that would pay dividends down the road.

“I had to take something from each year,” he said. “I realized you have to go into games with confidence, and that's something I tried to take with me into my senior year, not taking anything lightly, and knowing it can be done.”

Taylor will leave Marist with the core values instilled into him as a member of the RedHawks, including community, commitment, passion and unselfishness – all of which he has tried to incorporate into his life outside of basketball and will carry with him beyond high school, he said.

“Those are things you learn with a team and learn with other guys, and implement it in your life long after basketball,” he added.

His goal is to play basketball in college, though he does not yet know where he will attend or whether he will play. Montana and Chicago State are among the schools to which he has spoken.

“Basketball is something I really love doing and want to keep doing as much as possible,” he said.


Simeon withstands Marist's bid for epic upset

  • Written by Jason Maholy


By Tim Cronin


Marist did everything against Simeon but beat the Wolverines.

The RedHawks' performance in the Class 4A Thornton Sectional title game featured the vexing, tenacious defense they employed all season, only cranked up a notch. It featured an offense that, even as various Wolverines hung on East Suburban Catholic Player of the Year Morgan Taylor like a cape, got the job done so well that Marist held a 10-point lead aftera David Daniels' jam with 9:27 remaining in the game.

How, then, did Simeon rally to score a 53-48 victory for a berth in the super-sectional title contest against defending champion Whitney Young, in a rematch of last year's Class 4A championship game? By never getting ruffled by Marist's passionate play. By playing with the quiet assurance and belief that their own brilliance would, at some point, make the difference.

Pressing to force turnovers, the Wolverines (29-3) rallied to beat the RedHawks by outscoring Marist 26-11 in those last nine-and-a-half minutes. Simeon didn't commit a turnover during that decisive stretch. However resolute Marist had been, Simeon matched their effort – then raised it – proving themselves the top-ranked team in Illinois for at least one more night.

"They applied more pressure, and of course we're used to that pressure," said Jack Ellison, whose 14-point, nine-rebound performance led the RedHawks. "We talked about, 'When we get the lead, don't be surprised. Keep playing.' But turnovers happened, and that played a role in their coming back."

Thus ended a rollicking two-week run through the playoffs for the RedHawks (27-5), and the end as a squad for a team that bonded in every cliched Hollywood cliche, only in reality.

"It's going to be real hard," said Taylor, held to nine points in his final highs school game. "The practices were fun times. Last year, we had all experienced players. This year, all the players were inexperienced, but the guys stepped in and played their role well. I appreciate these last two years a lot. We tried to set the foundation for the team coming in."

"I loved playing with those guys and I'm going to miss it every single day in practice," agreed fellow senior Ellison. "We played as hard as we'd ever played before. I think that's all that mattered. The chemistry, the love we have, it's not like any other team. It's just not."

"I loved playing with this team," added Daniels, who finished with 12 points and seven boards in his last game as a RedHawk. "It was pretty much from the start. Some of us didn't know each other, but first practice and right after, we were clicking."

That trio of Taylor, Ellison and Daniels, Marist coach Gene Nolan will really miss. The group's chemistry, and the foundation of a help-out defense that leaned on a 3-2 zone that Simeon took the better part of three quarters to solve, will also be missed.

"We believed going in," Nolan said. "When you're doing it, there's an added belief. I think our kids developed that. We were good defensively, rebounded really well. We were efficient offensively."

In the end, Simeon was Simeon, and ended Marist's dream.

"I could not be any more proud of our kids," Nolan said. "Those are the 15 greatest kids a coach could ever coach."

For more than one brief shining moment, the game was Camelot for Marist's vocal fans in the gallery of about 1,500. Perhaps recalling last spring's sectional semifinal at Thornwood, when Simeon beat Marist by 20, they could revel in the RedHawks racing to an 8-0 lead when the Wolverines missed their first nine shots; then, in how Marist punched back after the Wolverines, paced by Iowa State-bound Talen Horton-Tucker's 17 points, took brief leads of one and then two points in the first half.

The game was tied at 23 at the intermission and Marist, on baskets by Taylor, Dorion Pendleton (nine points) and Ellison in the first two-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter, again ran out to a lead. The advantage reached 37-27 on the aforementioned Daniels dunk, for which the Marist faithful in Thornton's iconic gym went crazy.

"It was a great feeling hearing that," Daniels said.

Then Simeon coach Robert Smith turned the vise and ordered a press. Between that, a trio of 3-pointers by Kejuan Clements (12 points) and a pair of timely baskets by Messiah Jones helped the Wolverines overcome the deficit and escape.

"We knew what we could do," Daniels said. "We started to come back, but we needed more."

Marist is in good company. Most every foe Simeon has faced this season has left the gym saying the same thing.

Marist 61, Homewood-Flossmoor 47
The RedHawks earned their date with Simeon by running over a very good Homewood-Flossmoor team in the sectional semifinals on Wednesday, March 7. Marist's 3-2 zone stymied the Vikings, who turned out to be the scheme's final victim of the 2017-18 season.

A 3-2 zone, three guys in front, two in back, is in everyone's playbook. Why, then, did teams this season have so much trouble solving Marist's, which contributed to H-F's 24 turnovers.

"It's not really like a normal 3-2," said Jack Ellison, one of the main cogs. "We move guys around, keep flying them around. That's what the coaches emphasize the most. That's what confuses teams a lot. It's just a different look."

Ellison scored 23 points and Morgan Taylor had 20, and H-F had no answer for the one-two punch. The Vikings (21-7) had Issac Stanback, who scored 23 points, but no one else hit double figures.

Marist played its most aggressive defense beginning when it was 16-all midway through the second quarter. A 9-0 run opened the game up, and while H-F pulled to four points once, the RedHawks led 41-32 after three quarters.

"We looked for teammates and made the right choices," Taylor said. "Our defense is fairly unique."

"Defensively, our kids did a great job," Nolan said. "They're a difficult cover because they can really drive it. We were really active defensively."


St. Laurence tops Hyde Park to take regional crown

  • Written by Jason Maholy


St. Laurence defeated Hyde Park, 56-51, to win the Class 3A Mount Carmel Regional championship.

The Vikings earned their place in the title game by edging the host Caravan, 60-57, in the tournament semifinals. St. Laurence played Morgan Park on Tuesday in a sectional semifinal game in its home gym. The Mustangs are the top-seeded team in the regional.

The Vikings entered Tuesday's contest 20-10 under first-year coach Jim Sexton, after finishing 14-15 a season ago. The 20 victories is the most for the program since the 2006-07 Vikings won 19, and this year's team joins the 2006-7 and 2015-16 teams as the only ones in the past 13 years to finish above .500.

St. Laurence Three-Point Showdown Advancers:St.Laurence junior guards Konrad Kozina Donovan Slater both advanced to the sectional round of the IHSA Three-Point Showdown


Saint Xavier's Krolicki earns 2nd conference player of year award

  • Written by Jason Maholy


After finishing with a perfect record in conference play and winning  the CCAC Tournament, Saint Xavier headlined the All-CCAC Women's Basketball Team with a league-high four honorees on the 2017-18 All-CCAC Team.

Topping the list was senior guard Kara Krolicki, who for the second straight season was named the CCAC's Player of the Year. Krolicki led the conference in scoring by averaging 20 points per game, and was the league leader in steals per game with 3.3.

The reigning NAIA Player of the Year, Krolicki becomes the first back-to-back CCAC Player of the Year since the Cougar's Morgan Stuut accomplished the feat in 2014 and 2015.

Joining Krolicki on the All-CCAC First Team is senior forward Brittany Collins. A second-team selection last season, Collins finished the regular season ranked second in rebounding with 11.4 per game and third in field goal percentage (.617). She was also the NAIA national leader in blocked shots (3.6).

Chanel Fanter and Maddie Welter, a pair of sophomores were namedAll-CCAC Honorable Mentions. Fanter and Welter both started all 31 games of the regular season, and averaged 13.9 and 13.4 points, respectively.

Fanter blocked 71 shots, sixth most in Saint Xavier history, and recorded the program's fourth-ever triple-double when she totaled 17 points, 10 assists, and 10 blocks in a win at Roosevelt on Feb. 7.

Welter hit a team-high 108 3-pointers made, marking the sixth time a Cougar player has recorded over 100 treys in a single season. The sophomore joins Krolicki as the only two players in program history to reach triple digits in multiple seasons.

The honors for Saint Xavier don't end with the players, as Cougar head coach Bob Hallberg was named the CCAC Coach of the Year. It is the second time Hallberg has earned the award since the CCAC's move to a single NAIA division in 2012-13.

The Cougars kick off the postseason today, Thursday, March 8,against Tabor (Kansas) in the first round of the NAIA Division II Women's National Basketball Tournament. Saint Xavier finished the regular season 29-2, 20-0 in the CCAC, and entered their 16th consecutive trip to the national tournament as one of the field's four No. 1 seeds.

Every game in the first three rounds of the tournament will be streamed live online, through the NAIA Network. The national semifinals and championship game will air exclusively on ESPN3.

Area athletes star for SXU
Four are high school products are making an impact for the Saint Xaviermen's volleyball team, and helped the Cougars to a four-set win up the road last week at Illinois Tech.

The Cougars topped the Scarlet Hawks 25-15, 25-17, 23-25, 25-21 on Friday, March 2. Sophomore setter Aaron Kummer (Marist) tallied 39 assists, while libero Brandon McGinnis (Evergreen Park) picking up a match-high 16 assists.

Mike Burcl (Marist) was serving and recorded an ace during a three-serve series when the Cougars closed out the opening set, and Thomas Matonis (Stagg) recorded a key block during the second set.

Moraine Valley Community College’s intercollegiate sports program began in 1976. Forty-two years later, the most influential athletes, coaches and supporters in the school's history have been honored for their contributions as members of the first class of inductees into the Athletics Hall of Fame.

The inaugural inductees are Douglas C. Gehrke, Kay Schneegas, Rosie Geraci, LaVetta Mitchell and Ephraim Eaddy, who all attended the Feb. 15 ceremony with their friends and family.

Gehrke, who came to Moraine as an economics instructor in 1972, was the first athletic director and first men’s basketball coach. The 1972 Cyclones played its first game with players Gehrke found shooting hoops in the gym.

Schneegas was a physical education instructor who taught swimming, archery, cross country skiing, and golf. She came to Moraine in 1970, and when the athletics program started in 1976 became the women’s athletic coordinator. In that role she supervised and coached women’s sports including softball, volleyball and basketball.

Geraci was a standout player and head coach who played softball and volleyball for the Cyclones from 1982 to 1984. She was an All-NJCAA Region IV first team member and All-Conference team in volleyball, and an All-Conference first team selection in softball. She received the Female Athlete of the Year Award and the Douglas C. Gehrke Award for her service and dedication to athletics.

From 1994 to 2000, Geraci was head coach of Moraine Valley softball, leading the team to four conference championships including one undefeated season. Each of those years, she was named Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference Coach of the Year and led her team to the region final four.

Mitchell was on the women’s basketball team that won two straight conference championships and NJCAA Region IV championships in 1988 and 1989, and competed at the national tournament both seasons. She earned a number of honors during her career including an All-American honorable mention.

When Mitchell left Moraine Valley, she held the career scoring record (1,051 points) that was broken during the 2016-17 season. She also held the records for most blocks in a career (379) and game (nine), and still holds the Cyclone record for most career steals (271) is tied for most steals in a season (137). She is the No. 3 rebounder (712) in program history. In the early 2000s, she returned as assistant coach for the women’s basketball team.

Eaddy played on the men’s basketball team from 1996 to 1998 and helped the team to a conference championship and the NJCAA Region IV championship game in 1996. He earned NJCAA Division II All-American honorable mention and nods to the All-Conference, All-NJCAA Region IV first-team and All-Tournament team and was Skyway Conference Player of the Year. He was a two-time Moraine Valley MVP who left as the college’s all-time assist leader (578) and third in career scoring (1,074). Eaddy holds the single-game records for assists (18) and steals (12). He returned to Moraine Valley in the early 2000s as an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team.