It’s not all that uncommon to see a sophomore contributing on the varsity level. Even in the final minutes of a tight game, underclassmen are making plays all the time. So when Lake Zurich sophomore Nick Penny came up with 3 huge free throws in overtime of Saturday night’s nonconference contest with visiting Highland Park, no one was surprised.
Well, no one on the Lake Zurich side, at least.
“He is the type of player that if you take a minute off in practice he is going to beat you,” said LZ senior Brad Kruse. “He works hard every day and he pushes everyone to get better.”
With the game knotted at 45-45 in overtime, the Bears didn’t call on the likes of Kruse or leading scorer Mike Travlos. Instead, Penny found himself with the ball and, to no one’s surprise, he came up big.
Penny was fouled attempting a layup with 20.5 seconds left, putting him at the free-throw line. Like someone who has been in that spot hundreds of times, Penny calmly drained both free throws, lifting the hosts to a 49-45 win.
“It’s just free throws,” said Penny, who scored 3 points, dished out 4 assists and played the entire fourth quarter and overtime. “You try not to think about the game or the time left. I just look at it as free throws, nothing more.”
Lake Zurich (16-12) got to overtime after trailing for all but 65 seconds. Trailing by as many as 11 points in the second half, the Bears finally caught up thanks to the red-hot shooting of Jack O’Neill.
O’Neill drained a trio of 3-pointers, with all of them coming in the final quarter. His biggest shot came when the Bears needed it most.
With time running down, Travlos, who led the Bears with 17 points, found a well-guarded O’Neill on the wing near the Bears bench. His long 3-pointer with six seconds left brought the Bears even and forced overtime at 42-42.
Kruse was also a big offensive factor with 12 points and 9 boards.
“I’m real happy for Jack,” Lake Zurich coach Billy Pitcher said of O’Neill. “He stepped up and got real hot there at the end.”
Another key to the Bears’ comeback was the play of their defense in the second half. Highland Park (18-7) built a 25-14 advantage early in the period thanks in large part to the play of junior guard David Sachs. It was his game-best 18 points that helped the Giants build their advantage.
“Lake Zurich showed a lot of patience to get great shots,” said Highland Park coach Paul Harris. “Lake Zurich tightened up defensively in the second half and focused on David a bunch. But we still had some shots and good looks that just didn’t fall.”