It is an exciting time for West Chicago boys athletics.
The school just hired a football coach, Ted Monken, steeped in tradition and playoff appearances. The basketball team has double-figure wins for the first time since 2004-05 led by a player, John Konchar, seeking the program points record held by his coach, Bill Recchia.
The excitement continued early Friday at Neuqua Valley. Konchar and Co. made 8 of 9 shots to take the lead after one quarter. Then Neuqua allowed 12 baskets the rest of the way to claim the Upstate Eight Valley contest, 67-53, in south Naperville.
"We had to adjust and we had to start buckling down on defense, because early on they got almost any look they wanted, really -- a wide-open look, really," said junior guard Connor Raridon, who led Neuqua with 19 points and shared the defensive load on Konchar with Josh Piotrowski. "So the second quarter and second half we tried to pick up the 'D,' pick up the pressure and get into them a little more."
Starting with a foul-line jumper by West Chicago's Ryan Orr both teams quickly got into it, each making their first 3 shots. Led by Konchar's 9 points West Chicago (12-8, 4-5) kept it up for a 19-16 lead after one quarter.
"We were just prepping for Neuqua Valley very hard," said Konchar, who scored 26 points with 13 rebounds with Orr and Mikey Bibbs at 7 points apiece.
"During practice we had our heads on straight and just tried hard in practice -- practice like in games," Konchar said.
UEC Valley leader Neuqua Valley (15-5, 7-0) assembled one of its several runs to lead 25-23 with 3:03 before halftime on a drive by Elijah Robertson, who erupted with 6 of his 10 points in the second quarter.
West Chicago's Mitch Henke scored 4 straight for a 29-27 lead late in the second quarter but Neuqua, aided by a West Chicago technical foul, scored the last 6 points for a 33-29 lead and never trailed again.
More of the same in the second half -- Neuqua separating, West Chicago scrambling back.
Neuqua led 51-37 after three quarters, when Konchar paced a 10-0 run to get within 51-47.
Neuqua coach Todd Sutton, recognized before the game for his 500th career win on Monday, took a timeout. Back on the court guard Demond George scored 4 points and Jacob Eminger sank a 2-point rainbow for a 57-47 Neuqua lead with 4:29 left. The closest West Chicago crept down the stretch was 8.
"Stop the turnovers and get back on D," was Sutton's message. "They were getting run-outs, they were getting some easy ones there, and we were turning it over. That's it, just two little things."
George and Piotrowski each scored 11 for Neuqua Valley; Zach Incaudo had 8 points with 11 rebounds.
West Chicago coach Recchia said his club played well about 80 percent of the game and "the other 20 percent is what we need to work on."
"They beat us to a couple more loose balls," he said. "We threw away a couple opportunities that we had. That's one of the things that we need to tighten up a little bit, but I'm proud to be associated with this group of boys."