By Melvin Tate
On Feb. 1 at Riverside-Brookfield High School, the Bulldogs hosted Fenwick on the hardwood as the two rivals went toe-to-toe in front of a large and raucous crowd.
RBHS sophomore guard JP Hanley proved to be the difference as he hit all five of his three-point shots in a 66-59 Bulldog win over the Friars.
"It's always fun playing neighborhood schools, and we've developed a bit of a rivalry with Fenwick over the years," said RBHS head coach Mike Reingruber. "It's fun for both teams, and luckily we came out on top."
After an early 9-9 tie, Fenwick looked like it had taken command after it went on a 12-0 run that extended into the second quarter.
"I told the guys to calm down and play with some confidence," said Reingruber of RBHS rallying from the 12-point deficit. "We kind of lost our way a little bit and tried to pump them up more than anything. It helps when you make shots, and we matched (Fenwick) blow-to-blow."
Responding to their coach's inspiring words, the Bulldogs ran off 13 consecutive points of their own and outscored the Friars 21-7 the rest of the first half. They took a 30-28 lead into halftime.
"In the first quarter, we came out focused defensively," said Fenwick coach Staunton Peck. "But as we got tired, that focus went away, and they got a lot of wide-open threes. Give credit to RBHS, that's a good team. They went through a little rough stretch, but they're going to beat some teams, and it's tough to beat them here."
Hanley heated up in the third, scoring 10 points as the Bulldogs extended their lead to 53-45 going into the final eight minutes.
"We lost (Hanley) a few times," Peck said. "He's a good shooter, and when he's wide-open, he's going to make some threes."
"JP is a talented kid, there's a reason why he's starting on the varsity as a sophomore," Reingruber said. "He comes from a long line of Hanleys that can shoot the ball, and he stepped up and hit some big shots for us."
The Friars managed to cut their deficit to 62-59 with less than three minutes to play and had a couple of possessions to tie but weren't able to convert. A basket by Paul Zilinskas followed by two Luke Gentile free throws with eight seconds left sealed things for RBHS.
RBHS' Zilinskas finished with 15 points while Jamir Truman added 13 points and 9 rebounds and Dylan Meehan 9 points and 4 rebounds for the Bulldogs (13-8), who shot 59% (10-of-17) from three-point range.
Bryce Hopkins led Fenwick with a game-high 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. However, he went 0-of-6 on three-pointers as the Friars struggled to connect from long range, shooting just 33 percent from beyond the arc. Hopkins was the focus of an intense defensive effort displayed by RBHS.
"Bryce was fine. He missed some shots he usually makes," Peck said. "He's not going to score 40 every game."
Trey Pettigrew added 14 points and 4 rebounds, David Gieser 9 points, and Sean Walsh 8 points and 5 rebounds for Fenwick (19-5).
Fatigue may have also come into play for the Friars, given that they were coming off a scintillating 69-67 victory at St. Laurence the previous evening. Trailing by 23 to the Vikings at one point, Fenwick staged a dramatic rally and closed the game with a 13-2 run over the final 64 seconds. Hopkins, who had a game-high 36 points, scored on a putback as time expired.
"Every loss is a learning experience. Our guys will be back," said Peck. "Sustaining success on the road as a young team is hard. But I'm not disappointed, I thought we gave a great effort."
Also on Jan. 31, RBHS notched a 71-45 victory at Chicago Christian. Truman (18 points, 6 rebounds), Hanley (17 points, 6 assists), and Zilinskas (9 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists) led the way for the Bulldogs.
As the season enters the final month, both Fenwick and RBHS are looking to fine-tune their play in an effort to be at their best come March. Win or lose, these games are good preparation for the postseason.
"We want to play a tough non-conference schedule leading up to the state tournament," Reingruber said. "We look at this game as preparation for that, and this win will help with seeding (in the IHSA Class 3A tournament) while giving our guys confidence moving forward that we can play with anybody."
Fenwick will have almost one week off before facing Brother Rice on the road Feb. 7. Meanwhile, RBHS will host Metro Suburban leader Aurora Christian Feb.4 and IC Catholic Prep Feb. 7, then travel to Nazareth Academy Feb. 8.
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