Although it wasn't a pretty first half, Fenwick was right where it wanted to be in terms of the scoreboard, trailing Orr 22-20 at halftime of Friday's Class 3A Westinghouse Sectional final. The second half proved far more unsightly for the Friars, who were outscored by 18 points as the top-seeded Spartans pulled away for a 50-30 victory. In the fourth quarter, the Friars scored two points.
Sire Carroll, who transferred to Orr from Farragut this year, scored 11 of his 16 points in the third quarter as the Spartans made their move. After Fenwick senior forward Scott Lindsey scored on a tip-in to knot the score at 24-24, Carroll canned three straight shots from beyond the three-point arc plus an inside bucket during a 13-4 spurt. The surging Spartans picked up where they left off in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 unanswered points to build a commanding 50-28 lead. Fenwick's two points in the fourth quarter came via a free throw each from senior forward Tom Planek and sophomore guard Mike Smith.
In the early going, the Friars seized a 9-5 lead as Keshaun Smith scored baskets on a pair of transition layups and Mike Smith added a tough floater in the lane to spur the promising start.
Orr's 6-foot-9-inch center, Marlon Jones, hit a jump shot with 26 seconds left in the first quarter to give the Spartans a 12-11 lead. Orr essentially led the rest of the way, with the exception of Lindsey's aforementioned tip-in which briefly tied the score at 24-all early in the third quarter.
Mike Smith paced the Friars with seven points, followed by seniors Lindsey (six points), Planek (five points) and Keshaun Smith (four points).
Jones finished with a game-high 17 points for Orr, which advanced to the Hoffman Estates Supersectional. Last year, Orr finished fourth in the state in Class 2A. The Spartans also eliminated the Friars 55-46 last season in a sectional semifinal meeting, which marked John Quinn's last game as the Fenwick head coach.
Fenwick closed the season with a 22-9 record, including an 8-3 record in the highly regarded Chicago Catholic League North in coach Rick Malnati's debut season. During the season, the Friars notched several impressive victories, including wins against Morton, Benet, Proviso East, St. Joseph (twice), Hinsdale Central, St. Rita, Farragut and cross-town rival, Oak Park and River Forest. The Friars also took third in the Chicago Catholic League Tournament and notched three wins at the prestigious Proviso West Holiday Tournament.
The team will lose its entire starting frontline (Dwyer, Planek and Northwestern-bound Lindsey) to graduation, along with other key seniors in Keshaun Smith, Jeremy Ireland and Ben Peterson. Although Lindsey missed half the season with a leg injury, he returned to play well for the Friars down the stretch of the regular season and into the postseason. Dwyer (12 points, eight rebounds per game) and Planek (13 points, six rebounds per game) served as pillars of consistent play all season for Fenwick.
"It's been a really fun and challenging season," Dwyer said. "I love the fact we played such a tough schedule because it really pushed us to become a better team. It was fun taking on the best teams and best players in big-game situations. I think coach Malnati did a good job and we were well prepared for each game."
With the return of Mike Smith, Jamal Nixon and Mike Ballard, the backcourt should hit the floor running next season.
The Friars turned in a seamless performance of stifling defense and solid inside-out offensive basketball, to methodically wear down St. Joseph 73-54 in the semifinal matchup of the Westinghouse Sectional on March 12.
Since his arrival, Malnati has stressed the importance of defense and chemistry at both ends of the floor. The Friars put both those critical elements on full display against St. Joseph, limiting the typically high-powered Chargers to 27 percent shooting. St. Joe's made just two fields in the first quarter and shot 18-for-59 overall, including an abysmal 3-for-15 beyond the three-point arc.
Fenwick also dominated the boards with a 37-24 rebounding advantage. After establishing a 29-20 halftime lead, the Friars went on an 8-0 run late in the third quarter to extend their advantage to 44-28 in the third quarter. The Friars also made 31-of-36 free throws.
Glynn Watson scored a game-high 22 points for St. Joseph, which finished 23-7. Teammate Jordan Ash, who reportedly gave a verbal commitment to Northwestern yesterday, contributed 14 points. Ash, the first player to commit to the Wildcats from the 2015 class, is rated among the top 100 players nationally in his class. In college, Ash will be teammates with Lindsey, who will play at Northwestern next season.
Fenwick and St. Joseph have shared quite a history this season. The Friars won two of three meetings this year, including a 60-54 victory in the third-place game of the Chicago Catholic League Tournament at Chicago State University on Feb. 22. St. Joseph won the first meeting 68-52 in Westchester on Jan. 17. In three straight playoffs (2004-2006), the Chargers eliminated Fenwick during sectional competition.
The Friars advanced to the Westinghouse Sectional by defeating regional host Farragut 69-56 in the Class 3A playoffs. Up 10 points at halftime (38-28), the Friars went on a late third-quarter run to lead 55-40 en route to victory. Dwyer paced Fenwick with 17 points, supported by Planek (15 points) and Lindsey (12 points).
Like the success he experienced as the head coach at his alma mater, New Trier, Malnati appears to be on a similar path at Fenwick after a promising first campaign.
"We had a lot of great traditions at New Trier; I'm sure Fenwick does as well," Malnati said during the season. "We're also trying to build some new ones here at Fenwick."