With the exception of a 74-65 loss to Lyons Township, the Riverside-Brookfield boys basketball team has rolled through its opponents this season, winning games by an impressive 34 points per game margin.
This week, the Bulldogs welcome a major step up in competition at the 36th Annual Jack Tosh Holiday Classic held at York between Dec. 26 and Dec. 30. The Bulldogs (5-1) had a bittersweet experience at Tosh last Christmas, proudly claiming third place but losing star guard Dan Oswald (now at Illinois Wesleyan) to a serious wrist injury. Conant defeated St. Ignatius in the championship game last year.
This time around, the healthy and hungry Bulldogs are hoping for a championship run, albeit along a tough road.
“I think this year’s field is the strongest ever we have seen since coming to this tournament,” said RB coach Tom McCloskey. “The  teams this year have a good overall record.”
Maine South (8-1) is the top seed, followed by LT (8-0), Brother Rice (7-0), RB, and York (in seed order) rounding out the top five spots. Other seeds include Downers South, Oswego, South Elgin, Palatine, Wheaton-Warrenville South, St. Ignatius, St. Francis, Harlan, Glenbard South, St. Charles East and Conant.
Maine South, whose only loss was a 54-44 decision to powerhouse Waukegan, features 6-foot-6 junior Matt Palucki and savvy seniors P.J. Killean, Pat Maher and Justin Wasik. Lyons offers size and depth led by Dan Lalonde, Nick Zeisloft, Jimmy Stamas, Austin Lusson, Justin Phipps and Nick Burt. Representing the Chicago Catholic League, unbeaten Brother Rice rolls into Tosh with scorers Joe Miller, Josh Creed and Matt Ziencina. Implementing coach Al Biancalana’s motion offense, the host Dukes are also a contender with their high-scoring star Will Sullivan.
The Bulldogs are a viable threat to win the title this year, fueled by their explosive trio of perimeter players in Sean McGonagill, Ryan Jackson, and Billy VandeMerkt. The 6-foot-5 Terrence Reed and 6-8 Alex Dziagwa have solidified the Bulldogs’ post play, which is crucial to the team’s long-term success.
“I’m happy with where we are,” McCloskey said. “Sean is playing great and Billy and Ryan are also doing everything we need them to do. A concern for us over the last few years has been rebounding, but our big guys Terrence, Alex and Watoris [Slater] are doing a good job on the boards.”
The Bulldogs open at Tosh against Wheaton Warrenville South on Saturday (5:45 p.m.). The winner moves on to meet either York or Palatine on Sunday (7:15 p.m.). Maine South is in the same half of the draw as RB, while LT and Brother Rice headline the lower half of teams. This year’s Tosh title game is on Wednesday, December 30 (7:15 p.m.).
“The kids are chomping at the bit to get it going,” McCloskey said. “We have scouted Wheaton-Warrenville South. They are a good team. We’re going to take it one game at a time.”