Although it has been a subpar season for the Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball team, the emergence of junior guard Ryan Cicenas has been a bright spot. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard actually made an impact last season as a promising sophomore, however, this season Cicenas has improved even more as the team’s second best player after senior star Jalen Clanton.
Trailing Immaculate Conception 60-51 with 33 seconds left during Friday’s Metro Suburban Conference game, Cicenas came up clutch for the Bulldogs. He made a pair of 3-pointers to pull RBHS within 60-57.
Although the visiting Knights ultimately earned a 62-57 victory, Cicenas’ late game spurt represented the competitive spirit the Bulldogs have shown all season.
“We stayed in the game the whole time and nobody was ever down,” Cicenas said. “We weren’t doing much offensively in the first half, but we came out in the second half and started moving the ball around. We also started playing a lot better on defense in this game.”
Cicenas led RBHS with 19 points, while Clanton made an impact all over the court with 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Senior guard Jalen Brooks had nine points and sophomore guard Zach Vaia chipped in six.
Cicenas finished with five 3-pointers, the first occurring with the Bulldogs trailing 29-20 early in the third quarter.
After Alex Meurer made a pair of free throws to build the Knights’ lead to 31-23, the Bulldogs responded with a 6-0 run capped off by a basket from the right side by Brooks draw Bulldogs within two, 31-29. Clanton kept the momentum on the Bulldogs’ side by draining a trey at the buzzer to tie the game at 35-35 after three quarters.
Clanton would later drain a three-pointer of his own at the buzzer to tie the game at 35 at the end of the third quarter.
“We moved the ball around and passed it more,” Cicenas said. “The faster ball movement got us more open shots in the second half.”
At the start of the fourth quarter, Clanton scored again giving RBHS its first lead at 37-35. IC tied the score 37-37 on its next possession and outscored the Bulldogs 25-20 en route to victory.
“We played tough,” RBHS coachTom McCloskey said. “Ryan hit some big shots for us. We hit some big shots and IC hit some big shots. In the end, we just couldn’t get over the hump.
“The loss tonight was tonight. We just have to keep playing for pride and do the best we can for every game the rest of the way.”
On the following night, the Bulldogs lost to St. Joseph 53-40 at the annual “Night of Hoops” hosted by Batavia High School.
Clanton paced RBHS with 16 points and five assists. Cicenas contributed 11 points.
While a 16th straight conference title appears doubtful for the Bulldogs (8-11), a strong finish to the regular season in order to build momentum for the playoffs remains a priority.
“Right now, the conference race is close between a lot of teams,” Cicenas said. “We are slipping behind a little bit, but we aren’t giving up. We just have to win and finish the season on a high note.”
Looking ahead, the Bulldogs only graduate two players in Clanton and Brooks this year. The return of Cicenas, Vaia, AJ Meindl and Devin Moody, plus other varsity returners bodes well for RBHS. Currently 16-1, the sophomore team should provide additional reinforcements for varsity next winter.
“Jalen Brooks and I go way back,” Clanton said. “He has gotten a lot better since when we were younger. All the other players have shown progress as well.”
RBHS is on the road this weekend with games Friday at Illiana Christian (7:30 p.m.) and Saturday at Fenwick (5:30 p.m.).