By Marty Farmer
The Riverside-Brookfield and Fenwick High School boys basketball teams are in the same sectional of the Class 4A state playoffs. In fact, the sectional host Bulldogs and Friars could meet in the sectional semifinals on Tuesday, Mar. 6.
During the regular season, RBHS upset visiting Fenwick 67-65 on Zach Vaia's fadeaway jump shot at the buzzer.
Of course, RBHS-Fenwick Part II is much easier said than done since the sectional is loaded with quality teams. Top-seeded Curie, No. 2 seed/Class 4A defending state champion Whitney Young, No. 3 seed Oak Park and River Forest, and the fourth-seeded Friars are the top contenders . The rest of the 22-team sectional is littered with dangerous squads like Proviso East, Lincoln Park, St. Joseph, York and RBHS.
"With the depth and talent of our sectional, every game is going to be a battle," RBHS coach Mike Reingruber said. "We are looking forward to it."
The Bulldogs (18-10, 10-2) split the Metro Suburban Conference title with Wheaton Academy.After a 1-5 start, RBHS won 17 of 22 games with improved passing, shooting and defense.
"I was really pleased with how the team responded after starting 1-5 and finishing the regular season 18-10," Reingruber said. "They were bought into what we were doing on both ends of the floor and stuck with it. The goal is always to be playing your best basketball leading into the state tournament. I feel that is where we are right now."
Vaia (13.5 ppg, 5.3 apg) and senior guard Ryan Cicenas (14.3 ppg) powered the impressive turnaround. Both shot over 40 percent from beyond the 3-point arc as well.
Patrick Hanley (8.1 ppg), Reggie Loury and AJ Meindl complement Vaia and Cicenas along the perimeter. Jason Bageanis and Andrew Veon, who both averaged seven points per game, provide an interior presence at both ends of the court. .
Fenwick (19-7, 8-0 Chicago Catholic League Blue), which finished second in the state in the Class 3A playoffs last year, will be ready for all opponents in the playoffs, courtesy of a brutal regular-season schedule. The Friars, who are on a 38-game winning streak in conference, won their third straight CCL Blue title this season.
While the Friars possess plenty of firepower offensively with DJ Steward, Damari Nixon, AJ Nixon and Michael O'Laughlin, defense is the key to their success.
"Whenever we're slumping on offense, we can always rely on the defense to give us a boost," O'Laughlin said. "Coach (Rick) Malnati stresses that if we don't play good defense, it's going to be tough - if not impossible - to win."
Although Steward is recognized as an elite player nationally, Fenwick is balanced.
"It's not just about one player with this team," Malnati said. "We have five guys who can put up great numbers."