By Randy Whalen
Stagg had its chare of struggles this season, but the Chargers have persevered, continued to play hard and will be better for it down the road, both on and off the court.
That’s the hope of coach Marty Strus, whose squad took Lincoln-Way Central to overtime last week before dropping a 44-34 decision to the SouthWest Suburban Conference Red champions.
"Our record is what it is," Stagg coach Marty Strus said. "But sticking through it will make them a better person down the road."
Stagg (6-22, 2-6 SWSC) showed it was a better team than it was the first meeting the Knights (23-8, 7-1 SWSC) on Feb. 7, when Central hit 19 3-pointers en route to an 81-49 win.
"I'm proud of our guys," Strus said, "A great thing about our conference is that we play everyone twice, so we were able to make adjustments.
"Our inexperience showed at the end. We've had our moments of hanging in there and competing, but we've had a hard time pulling away or finishing at the end."
The Chargers slowed the tempo in an attempt to limit the Knights’ offensive opportunities.
It almost led to a win. Central led 32-27 with less than four minutes to go in the game when Stagg sophomore swing player Alex Gamboa scored on a layup and senior guard Kosta Kolovos canded a three-pointer with 1:29 to play to knot the game at 32. It was the first and only tie of the game.
The Knights turned the ball over with 47.3 seconds left in regulation and, as it had done all game, Stagg held the ball. A couple of timeouts later, Kolovos had an open look for a potential game-winning 3-pointer from the left corner, but it was short and fell off the side of the rim at the buzzer.
Central then began the extra session with a 12-0 run to claim the victory.
"Give them credit, they came in with a different game plan," Central coach Bob Curran said of the Chargers. "I still think there should be a shot clock in high school. But, that said, they had a shot to beat us.”
Stagg scored the first five points of the second quarter to close within one before the Knights extended it and took a 17-11 halftime lead. The six-point differential continued into the final quarter, which the teams entered with Central up 26-20.
Stagg, which was celebrating Senior Night, was led by sophomore guard TJ Griffin (9 points, 5 rebounds) and senior guard Justice Washington (8 points). Starting senior guard Troy Huddleston also contributed five points for the Chargers, whose other two seniors were forwards Sergio Olivarez and Jailin Thomas.
The Chargers had a nice effort to end the regular season and hopefully build toward the next campaign. They opened the Class 4A playoffs as the No. 15 seed in the Class 4A Bloom Sectional, facing Thornton in the semifinals of the Lincoln-Way East Regional.