By Randy Whalen
Oak Lawn came into this season with the expectation it could be special.
With all five starters back from the 2018-19 team and two bonified stars in Sami Osmani and Trey Ward, the Spartans had the ingredients they believed were needed to make a deep run in the Class 4A playoffs.
Unfortunately, after opening the Marist Regional with a victory they found themselves up against a Homewood-Flossmoor team that aspires for a state championship, and opened the postseason playing like a team possessed.
The Spartans were special, advancing to their first regional title game in 32 seasons. The Vikings, however, were just too much to handle in a 73-49 season-ending loss.
Oak Lawn opened the playoffs with a 41-37 win over the host RedHawks. Ward scored 15 points and Osmani had 14.
Osmani, a four-year varsity starter, will leave the Spartans as the program’s all-time leading scorer – a record he has held since the sixth game of the season. He also set the Spartans’ career 3-point field goal mark. Ward will leave Oak Lawn as the all-time leader in assists.
The Spartans other seniors who helped make this season the best in more than 30 years were David Reyes and Kevin Swatek – who along with Osmani and Ward served as team captains – and Scott Maloney, Joseph Virruso and Amjed Alramli.
Shepard saw its season with semifinal loss to the Vikings in the Marist Regional.
Count Astros senior Brandon Butler among those who were impressed with the Vikings after they handed Shepard its most lopsided loss of the season, 104-50.
"That is the best team I've ever gone against," Butler said. "They came out on fire. They have people that can shoot."
Shepard (15-17) was simply overwhelmed from the opening tip. H-F jumped out to a 14-0 lead and was up 44-14 at the end of the first quarter.
Senior forward RJ Ogom led the Vikings with 21 points.
Butler led the Astros with 12 points.
"They came out on fire and shot the ball really well," Shepard coach Tony Chiuccariello said. "RJ [Ogom] is a superstar player. We were in a man and not a zone to start out because they can hit from the outside. That's what they still did with [Joel Watts] and [Josiah Palmer]. Plus, they got second-chance points.”
Senior forward Josh Fehil (9 points) scored the Astros first points on a layup with 5:48 left in the first quarter. Ahead 31-12, H-F closed the quarter on a 13-2 spurt in the final 2:39. Ogom, who had 17 points in the opening quarter, had eight in that burst, with a trio of dunks including one right before the buzzer.
The Vikings hit eight 3-pointers in the first quarter and 17 in the game.
"We were as prepared as prepared can be," Chiuccariello said. "But their first quarter was incredible. Unfortunately, that was the story of this game."
Fehil opened the second quarter with a layup to make it a 28-point deficit. That was as close as the Astros would get the rest of the game. Leading 52-21, the Vikings closed the first half on a 12-3 burst for a 64-23 halftime lead. They opened the third quarter on another 10-3 spurt, which was capped off by a final slam from Ogom, who exited the game shortly afterward, to go-ahead 74-26. It was 95-38 after three.
H-F, which had five players in double figures and 11 players score, started substituting freely in the second quarter and played many reserves. One of them, junior Jason Schmidt hit a three-pointer a little less than two minutes into the fourth quarter to make it 100-40.
Astros junior guard Myles Palmer had 11 points and junior forwards Jamir Harvey (7 points) and Antwain Harris (6 points) also contributed.
Shepard endured a challenging season after losing its top eight players from last season’s 22-win team.
"We had some new guys step up this season,” said Chiuccariello, who completed his 22nd season in Palos Heights. “Brandon Butler, Josh Fehil and Gavin Quinlan were behind talented guys last year. It will be interesting to see what next season brings."
The Astros’ outgoing seniors are Butler, Fehil, Fadi Abour, Malachi Jackson, Gavin Quinlan and Ivan Valek.
Butler will miss playing at Shepard.
"I love them to death, they are my brothers," he said of his teammates.