HEADLINE: Earning their stripes
SUBHEAD: Tigers mow down Chargers with late surge
By Ken Karrson
These Tigers were the hunters, not the hunted.
Stagg coach John Daniels liked the fact he had almost a full week to prepare his team for Joliet West Thursday night. He felt a suitable game plan had been developed and, given the Chargers’ ability to stay competitive in nearly every contest this season, Daniels expected something far different from what actually occurred.
Of course, being without Jeff Goral was a hindrance. The senior, who Daniels labels as “definitely one of the better players Stagg’s had,” reinjured his ankle during practice and was sidelined by a second-degree sprain.
“With Jeff healthy, we are 7-3,” Daniels said. “We’re 2-8 with him either playing hurt or out.”
Make that 2-9 without Goral. Despite the absence of their leader, the Chargers hung tough with the Tigers for three-plus periods. But the latter earned their stripes -- and a win -- down the stretch by embarking on a closing 17-0 run that was boosted by Stagg turnovers on five consecutive possessions.
The 70-46 setback the Chargers suffered in the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue game was only their fourth of a sizable nature. The contest itself resembled an earlier one against Homewood-Flossmoor in Palos Hills -- on that occasion Stagg also battled for a while before the Vikings began imposing their will.
While Daniels acknowledged that the Chargers (9-12, 3-4) missed Goral, the coach quickly dismissed the idea the outcome would have been reversed had Goral played.
“The key is I use him like another point guard,” Daniels said. “If you’re going to pressure our [actual] point guard, that gives us another option. Against a team like Joliet, that’s very valuable.
“[But] we can’t score 70 points even with Jeff. Their athletic ability just took over [and] they came at us in waves. We played two very different styles and their style dominated in the second half.”
Prior to the Tigers’ closing burst, Stagg had ridden solid efforts from a few athletes to an extended level of competitiveness. Josh Strama led the way with 14 points, but Joe Zaremba was right behind with 13, an output that included a pair of 3-pointers that got the Chargers off to a 9-2 start.
“Joe plays hurt and he just battles,” Daniels said of Zaremba. “He always takes [the opponent’s] best player [on defense] and he’s doing a nice job.”
Brett Stratinsky (eight points, five rebounds) and John Contant (eight points, four assists) also lent a hand to Stagg, which was tied at 14-all after one quarter and trailed by only five (35-30) at intermission.
The differential stood at nine at the beginning of the final frame before the Chargers sliced into it a bit. But the missed front end of a 1-and-1 signaled the start of Stagg’s down fall as it failed to score any more points over the last six minutes.
“We missed layups, we traveled -- it went bad quick,” Daniels said. “Even when [the Tigers coach] called off the dogs it didn’t change. If Jeff had played, it would have been closer and we would have an answer to some of their pressure, but it was a track meet.
“They’re good enough to win a regional. They’re going to be a tough out. I wouldn’t want to play them in March.”
Joliet West prospered greatly from its work on the boards, which featured nearly two-dozen offensive rebounds. Daniels said it was like watching NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley “when he would pad his stats by missing shots and getting his own rebounds.”
Stagg finished with 21 turnovers and missed half of its 16 free throws. Although he didn’t openly complain about officiating, Daniels wondered why the Chargers were assessed 22 fouls, six more than an aggressive Tigers squad.
“They’re so fast [that] when they foul they’re like magicians who can pull their hand away before you see it,” he said. “We’re so slow you can set your watch by us.”
Round 2 of the SWSC Blue schedule began this past Tuesday when Stagg got a rematch with H-F. The Chargers visit Lincoln-Way East on Friday and Daniels wasn’t sure if Goral would be back for the latter game.
“A one-legged Goral is still extremely helpful,” he said. “He’s definitely earned the respect of everyone.”
Joliet West 70
Stagg Scoring: Strama 14, Zaremba 13, Contant 8, Stratinsky 8, McMahon 3. Rebounds: Stratinsky 5, Strama 4. Assists: Contant 4.