A win over Warren for the first time in at least a decade had the Lake Zurich boys basketball team all revved up on Tuesday night.
The Bears can thank, in part, their revved up offense and defense.
Back in November, in its first meeting with Warren, Lake Zurich scored only 33 points in a loss. But on Tuesday, the Bears made a 20-point gain in getting a 53-50 win over the Blue Devils.
Lake Zurich is on a three-game winning streak and has been averaging 53 points over that streak. That's a significant improvement for a program in which points have typically been tough to come by.
"We had some low-scoring games early, and last year, we even had a couple of games where we scored in the 20s," Lake Zurich coach Billy Pitcher said. "We don't want to play games in the 20s and 30s so we've really worked on ways to pick up the tempo.
"One of the ways we've been able to do that is to pick up the pressure defensively. When we do that, we can dictate the tempo a little more. Teams can't slow it down on us as much and we can get out and run a little more on offense. I think that's helped us because our kids are pretty good at doing that."
Lake Zurich, which is now 8-9, is able to maintain a consistent full-court pressure because Pitcher has added to his rotation. With more players getting minutes, the press rarely loses its effectiveness because of fatigue.
"Earlier in the season, we were going with about seven to eight guys," Pitcher said. "Now we're using 10 to 12 guys and that has really helped us with trying to keep the tempo up."
The balance in playing time has also led to a balance in scoring for Lake Zurich, which is led by senior guard Ryan Roach, junior guard Brad Kruse and sophomore guard Mike Travlos, all of whom are averaging between 8 and 10 points per game.
Fingers are being crossed, wood is being knocked.
Libertyville coach Scott Bogumil is approaching his team's games this weekend against Warren and North Chicago with cautious optimism. Times 100.
This could be the first time all season in which the Wildcats will have all 15 players on their roster healthy and available for action. Injuries have wreaked havoc on Libertyville over the first two months, and that's reflected in a 2-12 record.
"It's been a long first half of the season," Bogumil said. "Of the top 10 guys in our rotation, nine of them have missed time this season, either practices or games or both. We've had people out with illnesses, with injuries. It's been one thing after another. It's been a struggle, but we've been slowly getting people back lately."
Senior starting guard Jack Lipp has been the rock for the Wildcats. He hasn't missed a game this season.
But after Lipp, the injury list is long.
Senior guard Matt Varner suffered an upper body injury right before the Wheeling Hardwood Classic last month and played only a minute over the entire tournament.
Junior forward John Vernasco has been out for the first half of the season while recovering from a concussion while junior forward Justin Jost tweaked his ankle and junior guard Matt Reed also missed time.
"During this first half of the season, it's felt like we've often been operating by just taping things up the best we can and going with it," Bogumil said. "We've had guys playing out of position, our rotations have been off.
"We are really looking forward to getting back to what we envisioned doing this season. I'm excited to see what we can do with all of our guys back and a healthy team. I guess if I had a choice to be down players at the beginning of the season or at the end, I'd pick the beginning."
If the Wildcats turn into the Copycats, that won't bother Libertyville head coach Scott Bogumil.
Not if his players are copying junior forward John Vernasco, that is.
Vernasco is in the process of returning from a concussion that kept him out for the first half of the season and Bogumil believes he could provide an immediate lift on both ends of the floor.
"John is the kind of player who brings a lot of energy and other guys always seem to feed off that," Bogumil said. "He's our best defender, the glue to our defense and the way he plays with so much energy, other guys just pick up on it."
Offensively, Vernasco brings the same kind of intensity and can sometimes be tough to contain.
"John can score. He's capable of 20-point games," Bogumil said. "We're excited for him to return because he's going to relieve the pressure on his teammates in a lot of ways."