By Melvin Tate
The seniors on the Riverside-Brookfield High School boys' basketball team made their final home game a memorable one as the Bulldogs topped Glenbard South 67-53 on March 6 to win their own 3A regional title.
"Our seniors have led us all season long; we're a senior-dominated group," said RBHS coach Mike Reingruber. "Their experience, toughness, and savvy obviously paid off tonight."
Paul Zilinskas is one of those seniors who led RBHS (22-10), tallying 17 points along with collecting 11 rebounds in a strong all-around effort.
"It feels amazing," said Zilinskas, who transferred in from Richards at the start of the school year. "This is what we've been working on since I got here, and it's amazing to win our last game on our floor, especially with it being the regional title. We're so grateful for everyone coming out here and watching us, and I'm so happy my teammates stepped up and played a great game."
The contest was tight at the start. RBHS scored the first five points, but Glenbard South (25-5) responded with a 11-0 run and took a 14-9 lead after the opening quarter. The Bulldogs then started the second quarter with a 6-0 run to retake the lead, and the game remained close for the remainder of the half as RBHS took a 25-24 advantage into the locker room.
About three minutes into the third quarter, RBHS led 29-28. That's when the Bulldogs went on a 9-2 burst to break things open a bit, raising the score to 38-30. Zilinskas, Dylan Meehan, and Jack Stivers each nailed a three-pointer in this key stretch, one that both Reingruber and Zilinskas believed was critical in the outcome.
"That stretch where we hit three threes in a row really busted things open," Reingruber said.
"I think it was our defense (in the second half) that was important," added Zilinskas. "In practice last night, all we worked on was defense; we barely played offense. Our defense was the key."
RBHS took a 47-36 lead into the fourth quarter and continued to dominate on the defensive end, holding the Raiders without a basket for the first six minutes. This allowed the Bulldogs to gradually pull away, and a thunderous Jamir Truman dunk with about two minutes left sent the RBHS Dog Pound student section into a frenzy. It also gave the Bulldogs their biggest lead at 60-41.
"It sounds great," said Reingruber on becoming regional champions. "The kids have worked really hard all offseason and throughout the year to get to this point. Hopefully, we're not done yet."
RBHS starts three other seniors besides Zilinskas, and each of them was a key contributor to the win. Truman tied Zilinskas in team scoring honors with 17 points, Meehan finished with 14 points, six rebounds, and four assists, and Luke Gentile added five points and five assists. And another senior, Jack Stivers, came off the bench to score seven points for the Bulldogs.
Brandon Malone had a game-high 19 points for Glenbard South. Aryton Temcio added 12 points and 10 rebounds and Nick Plaso nine points for the Raiders.
Up next for RBHS is a meeting with Bogan in a sectional semifinal March 10 at Hinsdale South. The Bengals (27-3), who were the 3A runner-up last season, defeated host St. Laurence 79-65 for the regional title and are led by senior Antoine Bloxton, who this week was named to the prestigious Chicago Sun-Times All-Area Team.
Bogan presents a formidable challenge, but it's one that the Bulldogs are not backing down from.
"Obviously, Bogan's a great team," Reingruber said. "They're super-athletic and got a bunch of dudes that can play. We're going to have to play better."
"We played them three times this summer and beat them once," Zilinskas said. "We're going to come at them strong, and they'd better be ready."
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. in Darien.