By Steve Millar
Even as St. Rita won 24 games and a Catholic League White title, the Mustangs still struggled with offensive inconsistency.
That was on display last week with a regional title on the line. St. Rita was on fire offensively early, but ice cold at the end as Homewood-Flossmoor used a dominant fourth quarter to pull away for a 55-45 win in the Class 4A T.F. North Regional final.
“I thought it was a great first half,” St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare said. “At playoff time, you have to score to win. We didn’t score in the fourth quarter. You can’t win if you don’t make shots.”
Jeremiah Oden scored 13 points to lead the Mustangs (24-9), while Joel Watts, Alec Millender and Javon Cooley each scored eight. Watts added eight rebounds.
Oscar Parrish had 14 points to lead four players in double digits for H-F (22-7).
St. Rita had a huge opportunity against a shorthanded Vikings team. H-F’s leading scorer and rebounder, Issac Stanback, sat out for what H-F coach Marc Condotti called “internal reasons.”
The Vikings’ second-leading scorer, RJ Ogom, started but played limited minutes and sat the entire second half with an ankle injury.
The Mustangs appeared ready to take advantage, leading most of the way.
It slipped away in the fourth quarter, however. The game was tied 36-36 entering the fourth, but H-F opened the quarter on a 13-0 run.
Parrish scored the first six points to spark the surge. St. Rita didn’t score in the fourth until Watts hit two free throws with 2:01 left in the game.
Watts scored six points in a 56-second span to pull the Mustangs within 50-42, but that was as close as they would get.
“It’s one of those losses where we’re up, and we know we had the game,” Watts said. “We let it get out of our hands. We let it loose. That was our chance.”
St. Rita hit its first four shots of the game, all 3-pointers, to take a 12-4 lead just over two minutes in.
That surge, though, would prove to be an anomaly. St. Rita shot just 2-for-18 from three the rest of the way.
“It was fool’s good,” DeCesare said. “We came out and hit some threes so then we kept shooting them. We’re not a three-point shooting team and we never were.”
Oden agreed the Mustangs became too dependent on the outside shot.
“We lived and died by the three,” he said. “We started off hot, but then we went ice cold and we weren’t getting anything at the rim.”
St. Rita led 32-25 with 6:05 left in the third quarter, but H-F hit three 3-pointers to rally to tie it 36-36 after three.
The Mustangs were left to reflect on a successful season, one that exceeded DeCesare’s expectations.
“I felt we had some good depth and good leadership, but we weren’t a good shooting team,” he said. “We guarded and defended and that kept us in every game.”
Oden said there is a lot to be proud of.
“A lot of people probably didn’t think we’d win 24 games,” he said. “I felt like we did some special things. We just didn’t go downstate like our plan was, but life goes on.
“I’m just going to miss playing with these guys. They’re like my brothers. This is my favorite team I’ve ever been on.”