Most local high school basketball fans know about the rivalry between Fenwick and Oak Park and River Forest High Schools. But there’s another area rivalry Riverside-Brookfield and Fenwick that’s just as intense.
“We know a lot of these guys from our area, and they come here for basketball,” RBHS guard Zach Vaia said after the Bulldogs’ 64-61 win Saturday at Fenwick. “I look at it as a rivalry game. It’s definitely good to come to their house and get a win.”
Considering they didn’t score their first points until about halfway through the first quarter, the Bulldogs’ seventh straight victory was particularly impressive.
“We started out a little slow trying to feel things out,” RBHS coach Mike Reingruber said. “That second quarter gave us confidence and the rest of the game we traded blows. Luckily we came out on top.”
Indeed, the Bulldogs (20-4, 8-1 Metro Suburban Conference) outscored the Friars 27-17 during a pivotal second quarter
“We had a mental lapse defensively,” Fenwick coach Staunton Peck said. “That was our one bad quarter. We won the other three quarters, but basketball is four quarters long. We can’t just play three quarters.”
About midway through the second quarter, Fenwick led 22-18. Then, RBHS went on a 12-0 run to take a 30-22 lead. The Bulldogs never trailed again as they held a 33-27 advantage at halftime. The RBHS pair of Patrick Hanley and Reggie Loury scored eight points apiece during the Bulldogs second-quarter surge.
“We just took a step back and everyone calmed each other down,” Vaia said about the Bulldogs’ poise. “We play better when we play with each other and we started playing as a team. Shots started dropping; we just went from there.
“Patrick is a great shooter,” he added. “I love playing with him. He’s always my go-to guy to pass the ball to when we need a three. His shooting kept us in it, especially early on when we were down.”
The game evolved into a tense nail-biter in the second half, particularly the fourth quarter. Fenwick sophomore forward Bryce Hopkins scored 13 of his game-high 25 points in the final eight minutes as the Friars made it a one-possession game on a few occasions. But every time Fenwick drew close, RBHS responded with clutch baskets from Vaia (who had 11 of his team-high 17 points in the fourth), Hanley or Loury.
“We made a couple of adjustments defensively. Offensively, we started making shots,” Reingruber said. “It helps when you start seeing the ball go through the basket. It becomes a little contagious.
“We’re a senior-dominated group,” he added. “We’ve been through a lot of battles. We’re used to winning and knowing what kind of plays it takes to win. We made it happen again tonight.”
After Fenwick cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 62-59 on a Hopkins’ 3-pointer with 11.6 seconds left, Vaia was fouled. With six seconds left in the game, he made two free throws to essentially put the game away. The Friars’ Lucas Kolovitz scored on a putback basket at the buzzer to account for the final score.
Despite the loss, Peck was pleased with his young team’s effort, especially from his underclassmen and senior Lucas Kolovitz.
“We’re young but we never give up,” Peck said. “Trey Pettigrew got into foul trouble in the first half, but he came back and gave us a huge lift. Kaden Cobb is playing some big minutes. Bryce had another good game.
“I’m upset that we lost, but I love the way we battled. I think we were good enough to win the game, but we just missed a couple of shots and didn’t come up with a stop on defense when we needed it.”
Kolovitz finished with nine points and 13 rebounds, while senior guard Solomon Oraegbu added 14 points and five boards for the Friars.
“”R-B is a good rebounding team and we killed them on the boards,” Peck said. “”Lucas played great, he was a man tonight. He leads by example and sets the tone for our team with his toughness.”
Hanley tied Vaia for scoring honors with 17 points. Loury contributed 13 points and Andrew Veon 11 as RBHS produced its customary balanced scoring.
With the state tournament looming in a few weeks, both teams realize there’s some fine-tuning to do.
“We’ve got to continue to get better every day,” Reingruber said. “Defensively, we need to continue to stay locked in every possession of every game. I love our balance offensively, but sometimes we need to run some of our sets and specials a little bit better. Everyone’s striving to get better for in the state tournament.”
Vaia added: “We need to start games better. I felt like we brought more energy in the second half, but we also need to be that way in the first half. Also, we’ve got to stay composed down the stretch in close games which will help us.”
The Friars’ rigorous schedule ensures excellent preparation for the playoffs. Fenwick has played 12 teams that are currently ranked or have been ranked at some point in area polls.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction even though we lost tonight,” Peck said. “We need to keep getting better defensively and get stops when we need them. Sometimes when we’re not playing great offensively, our defense suffers. You’re not always going to make shots, but you’ve always got to get stops.”
RBHS also earned a conference victory against Immaculate Conception in Elmhurst over the weekend. Engaged in a close game, the Bulldogs blanked the Knights 20-0 in the fourth quarter en route to a 57-29 win. Charles Terry scored 12 points, while Vaia, Veon and Loury finished with 11 points each.