It’s difficult for any high school basketball team to defeat a comparably matched conference opponent three times in one season.
Oak Park and River Forest learned that lesson the hard way in a 74-56 loss at Class 4A regional host York in the championship game. Although the Huskies swept the Dukes in a pair of games during the regular season en route to winning their third straight conference title, York notched the victory that mattered the most Friday, March 1 in Elmhurst.
“The credit goes to York,” OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. “They were prepared and ran their stuff really well. They’re a team that if you slip on one action or are a step late, they make you pay. Tonight, they made us pay from three-point range. We wanted to make them count by twos, not threes, but we weren’t able to do that. Every time we tried to make a run and get back into it, they’d hit a big shot.”
Each team produced scoring runs in the early stages. After York scored the game’s first four points, OPRF used a 12-0 burst to take a 12-6 lead after the first quarter.
The Dukes countered with a 19-4 run to start the second quarter that put them ahead to stay at 25-16. The Huskies scored the quarter’s final six points to cut the deficit to 25-22 at halftime.
OPRF trimmed the York lead further to 28-26 within the first 75 seconds of the third quarter. That was as close as the Huskies would get however as the Dukes scored 13 of the next 17 points to take a double-digit lead at 41-30. York made five three-pointers, including three by Erik Cohn, to build a 48-36 lead at the end of the third.
Nick Kosich attributed the pivotal third quarter to the Dukes’ improved defense.
“Honestly, we played better defense in the second half than we did the first,” Kosich said. “We focused on clogging up the gaps and helping out. Our defense was huge. It allowed us to have open looks on the other end, which we knocked down.”
With a little under six minutes left in the game, OPRF senior Dan Francis nailed a three to pull the Huskies within 52-44. York promptly responded with a 13-1 run to essentially put the game away.
Senior guard Dashon Enoch led the Huskies in scoring with 13 points. Senior guard Chase Robinson and sophomore forward Josh Smith added 12 points apiece, while senior Charlie Hoehne contributed four points and six rebounds. Foul trouble plagued OPRF senior forward Anthony Roberts, who finished with six points and five boards.
The York trio of Sam Walsh and fellow seniors Cohn and Kosich played a large role in ending the Huskies’ season as Kosich and Walsh each scored a game-high 16 points and Cohn added 15 points on five three-pointers. Junior Jeff Grace chipped in 12 points. Cohn pulled down nine rebounds and Walsh finished with seven boards.
“We’re excited,” Walsh said about the Dukes advancing to the sectional for the first time since 2016. “A lot of people doubt us, but we know we can compete.”
Maloney praised his senior class for their efforts in leading OPRF (18-10) to three consecutive West Suburban Silver titles and winning 36 of 39 conference games the past three seasons.
“It’s a very tight-knit group. I’m going to miss those guys,” he said. “Dashon is a four-year varsity guy, Charlie three years, and Anthony two and a half. Chase grew up in our basketball camps, going back to fifth grade, and so when he joined us (after transferring from Marist prior to his junior year), it was like he’d been with us all the time. Those four have been tremendous in practices and games.
“Danny Francis is another guy who bleeds orange and blue. They gave a lot and this loss doesn’t spoil all they did and the history they made. I just hope I gave the seniors as much as they gave me.”
Aside from continued dominance in the West Suburban Silver, the Huskies enjoyed several other memorable moments during the season.
Highlights include a pair of wins over York and a victory over West Aurora at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. However, the Huskies suffered several tough losses to Fenwick on a buzzer-beater at the Chicago Elite Classic, at St. Patrick, and to Evanston, Hillcrest, Proviso East and Riverside-Brookfield (all top 25 teams). After a mediocre first half of the season, OPRF played much better after Christmas by winning 10 of 13 games.
Roberts, Hoehne and Robinson earned all-conference recognition in the West Suburban Silver.
“The season was a lot of ups and downs for us,” Roberts said during the regular season. “We lost games that we shouldn’t have lost. We know we can play with any team and we are proud that we won conference for a third straight season.”
Fortunately, OPRF has evolved into a program that reloads instead of rebuilds despite the loss of four key seniors. There are some promising players that will step into more prominent roles next season, including Smith and fellow sophomores Isaiah Barnes and Justin Cross, who was out with an injury.
“Josh and Isaiah got a lot of quality minutes and have huge upside,” Maloney said. “Justin, who was close to coming back and is obviously someone we could’ve used tonight, also has a bright future.
“Plus, we have other juniors who played well in junior-varsity action, our sophomores were 18-5, and our freshmen are tremendous,” Maloney added. “There’s a lot to build on, and hopefully some of these young guys will learn a lot and see what it takes to be serious and focused.”
York (29-4) advances to the 4A Proviso West Sectional, where it will face Whitney Young in a semifinal on Wednesday, March 6. The other semifinal on Tuesday, March 5 features nationally-ranked Curie (31-1) versus Metro Suburban Conference champ Riverside-Brookfield (28-4), with the winners meeting Friday, March 8 for the sectional title. All games tip off at 7 p.m. in Hillside.