By Marty Farmer
The Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball team's stay in the Class 4A playoffs was brief but eventful.
The Bulldogs opened the playoffs in thrilling fashion with a 52-49 win over York. Junior forward Andrew Veon made a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to defeat the dazed Dukes in a regional semifinal matchup at the Curie Regional.
Veon (18 points on 8-for-11 shooting, 5 rebounds) and junior guard Zach Vaia (25 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) turned in all-around performances against York.
In the regional final, Curie defeated the Bulldogs 67-59. RBHS stayed within striking distance of the top-seeded Condors the entire game. Senior guard Ryan Cicenas (22 points) and Veon (21 points) led RBHS offensively. Senior forward Jason Bageanis added 12 points on 4-for-4 shooting beyond the 3-point arc.
"I think we were just getting a feel for playoff basketball during the first half of the York game," Vaia said. "We came out a whole different team in the second half and got the win.
"We knew the Curie game was a going to be a battle. I felt like we kept it close throughout the game and we gave ourselves a shot to win a regional championship."
Curie takes on Proviso East while Whitney Young faces Lincoln Park in the semifinals of the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional this week. The championship game is Friday, March 9 at 7 p.m. Area teams like RBHS, Morton, Fenwick and Oak Park and River Forest were eliminated in regional play.
Considering the Bulldogs started 1-5 under first-year head coach Mike Reingruber, the team rallied nicely the rest of the season.
"I honestly don't know what triggered our turnaround," Bageanis said. "Things just started to click for us. We started hitting all our shots and playing much better defense. We had a down season last year so none of us wanted another one."
After their shaky start, the Bulldogs won 18 of 24 games en route to a 19-11 overall record and share of the Metro Suburban Conference title with Wheaton Academy (both teams finished 10-2).
"We changed around the season and brought a conference championship back to RB," Vaia said. "I'm proud to be part of the team that got the program back to winning."
RBHS provided excitement all season, highlighted by buzzer-beating victories against Immaculate Conception, Fenwick and York.
"Beating Fenwick was a big accomplishment," Bageanis said. "I don't think a lot of people had us winning that one."
While the Bulldogs will miss seniors A.J. Meindl, Bageanis, Cicenas and Zach Vaia, all the other top contributors return next season. Jake Vaia, Veon, Patrick Hanley, Reggie Loury and Charles Terry provide more than enough talent and experience to ensure RBHS will be very competitive next season. Reinforcements are on the way as well with a sophomore team that went 21-3.
"I was really pleased with how the team responded after starting 1-5 and finishing the season 19-11," Reingruber said. "They were bought into what we were doing on both ends of the floor and stuck with it."
In terms of individual honors, Zach Vaia was named the Metro Suburban Conference Player of the Year. Cicenas, Bageanis and Veon joined him on the Metro Suburban All-Conference team.
Cicenas, who will play college basketball at St. Xavier University next season, scored over 900 career points at RBHS and is second all-time in 3-pointers made 197, 10 shy of Randy Ramsey's school-record 207 treys.