The season-long process of building will soon be over for the Riverside-Brookfield boys’ basketball team.
All that’s left is the chance to measure how far the team has gone.
The Bulldogs get their first chance next Wednesday when they open the Class AA Regionals against Morton, beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Lyons Township High School.
“We’ve played well over the last few weeks and we’re happy about that,” RB coach Tom McCloskey said. “Overall we’ve gotten better each week, which is good because we’ll see a lot of tough teams in our sectional.”
If you go by the seeds assigned in the Morton Sectional, the sixth-seeded Mustangs are favored against the ninth-seeded Bulldogs. Morton also won a head-to-head match-up back in December. But a lot has changed along with the calendar year.
RB (15-8) has played some of its best games recently, including Saturday’s 63-60 win over Lincoln-Way Central. The Bulldogs have been led by a pair of senior guards having exceptional seasons.
Alex Devaris is leading RB in scoring at 17 points per contest, and dropped 23 on Morton earlier this year. Meanwhile Mike Halusek is chipping in 15 per game. Both players have rival coaches concerned.
“They’re just so scary the way they shoot the ball well,” Mustangs coach Tony Martinucci said. “They’ll be in games. When we played earlier this year, we were all over them, but they were still knocking shots down. And they’re playing better now.”
The surrounding cast will be just as important. Senior center Tyler Kos, junior forward Matt Sandrik, sophomore center Jon Baldermann, senior guard Andrew Dzija and freshman guard/forward Chris Parrish all share in the scoring and rebounding responsibilities, and will need to play well to keep the opposition from keying on Devaris and Halusek.
“That’s real important,” McCloskey said. “If you look at our wins, we generally have three or four guys in double figures. We have a lot of different guys that can step up and help us. We need to get balanced scoring, hit perimeter shots and score on the inside.”
Though Morton (15-9) already has a win over RB under its belt, the Mustangs have been beset by injuries. Bryan Erce leads Morton with 15 points per game, but after that the Mustangs’ lineup is thin. Forward John Stokes is averaging eight points per game, but has been troubled by leg injuries all season. Cedric Johnson is averaging 14 points and is a game-breaking type of player, but since suffering head trauma in an early December accident, hasn’t been the same.
Morton has also lost Eric Love, who not only averaged 15 points per game, but was also leading the team in rebounding with eight per game. Center David Vargas, the biggest player on the Mustangs roster at 6-foot-3, is trying to fill the void.
Should the Bulldogs get past the wounded Mustangs, they’ll play for a regional title against a Nazareth Academy (11-15) team they beat 60-48 in January, or a Lyons Township (19-5) team they lost to 79-67 earlier this month.
With the Morton Sectional being one of the toughest in the state, the Bulldogs will have to climb over a lot of talented teams to make it to Peoria, but for now the focus will be on Morton.
RB will wrap up the regular season with a pair of games this week. First the Bulldogs take on Brother Rice (20-4) at home tonight at 7 p.m., and Friday they’ll travel to Fenton (14-10, 5-2). A win there and RB (7-0 in conference) will wrap up a second-straight unbeaten Suburban Prairie Conference season.