The Wolves (20-7, 8-0) took on Plainfield Central (12-13, 4-4) on Friday night in front of a student section decked out in red. It was senior night, as the Wolves will have seven seniors graduating in the spring this year. More importantly, the 64-61 win meant the Wolves clinched their first outright conference title since 2010.
The normal starting lineup (Dennis, Grant, Brewer, Battle, Schultz) did not start Friday night. Instead, it was an all senior lineup (Smiley, Page, Brown-Shipp, Dennis, Battle). The first quarter was back and forth as senior forward Kam Battle scored six of the Wolves’ first eight points. No team could gain momentum as the first quarter ended with a 15-14 Wolves’ lead.
To start the second, the Wolves extended the lead to five thanks to the scoring of senior guard Demari Grant. The Wildcats hung around though and would not allow the Wolves to extend that five point lead. The score at halftime was 32-28.
The third quarter was a near duplicate as the second. The Wolves couldn’t extend their lead past six, and Grant carried the load of scoring with six points in the quarter. However, every basket the Wolves scored, the Wildcats had an answer, including a buzzer beater three pointer by the Wildcats. The score heading into the fourth was 46-41.
The Wolves stretched their lead to 14 midway through the fourth, but the Wildcats weren’t going to lie down and give up. Instead, the Wildcats got right back in the game with a blink of an eye, going on a 9-0 run. Poor free throw shooting from the Wolves and the Wildcat’s blistering three point shooting kept this game much closer than it needed to be.
Eventually, the Wolves were able to fix their free throw shooting woes and escape with a 64-61 victory to stay undefeated in conference and win their first outright conference title since 2010.
“It feels good, we did something like we had talked about the whole year so it feels pretty good,” junior forward Sam Schultz said talking about the conference title post-game.
Schultz led the team with 16 points, while Grant and Battle both pitched in with 12 points.
“Their defense had a lot of holes in it so it was easy for me and KB (Kam Battle) to control the paint down low,” Schultz said.
But not all of the players had such an easy time, as leading scorer RayJ Dennis (23 PPG) was held to just 7 points.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for other guys to step up and contribute in many different ways on either the defensive end or offensive end,” Head Coach Ryan Velasquez said. “There’s going to be nights where RayJ doesn’t get his points, which means other people are going to get more playing time, others may have to expand their role, it just has to be a collective effort.”
One thing that the whole team was able to be a part of was senior night, something that senior guards Gerard Brown-Shipp and Connor Sinadinovic were really looking forward to.
“Tonight was sad and happy at the same time because it’s the last game on the home court, but it always feels good to get the win and secured the conference championship,” Sinadinovic said.
Brown-Shipp, despite not getting in the scoring column, felt it was more about the experience as a whole.
“It was nice seeing the whole community out there, seeing people that you grew up around that you’ve known your entire life, it was a surreal type of moment,” Brown-Shipp said.
Sinadinovic has been on varsity since last year, but his playing time has been scarce, something that he has embraced. Friday night would be a different story as he checked in the game roughly half way through the first quarter.
“It felt really good to be out there [on the court], it was a really good atmosphere,” Sinadinovic said.
These seniors have arguably been the best in program history, culminating in a conference title and a 20 plus win season.
“I think they’ve set a standard for future classes, future teams, it’s a group that wins and goes hard and have left a legacy behind where they can look behind and be proud of their accomplishments,” Velasquez said.
The Wolves look to complete their undefeated conference record on Thursday, February 21 at Minooka (5-20, 2-7). Tipoff is at 6:30 p.m.
Scott Clarke is a sports writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl