Members of a last-place basketball team last year, Grayslake Central's seniors were determined to have the last laugh.
So they made a memory, which will last. Forever.
That the Rams' Fox Valley Conference Fox Division-clinching, 66-48 win came against the crosstown rival Tuesday night made it that much sweeter.
"All of our seniors on the floor, including Malcolm Reed and Matt Loeffl, were looking at this game as their last rivalry game in high school for sports," junior point guard Joey Mudd said. "So we all came out tough and were ready to play."
By beating visiting Grayslake North (8-15, 6-4), Grayslake Central (14-9, 10-0) clinched the FVC Fox championship outright. Not a bad achievement for a team that won just five games, including two in the division, last season.
"It's crazy," senior guard Charlie Anderson said. "At the beginning of the year, it just felt good to finally get back in the win column. And then it started rolling once conference started. The team's been playing really great together."
Reed and Anderson scored 15 and 12 points, respectively, to lead the Rams, who knocked down seven 3-pointers. Reed, Anderson and David Llorens each hit a pair of 3s. Mudd, Michael Benko and Llorens added 8 points apiece, while Sam Ruhlmann chipped in 7, including a 3.
Grayslake Central won despite starting forward Alex Lennartz missing his fifth game in a row with a concussion.
Down 15-14 after one quarter, the Rams outscored the visitors 19-9 in the second and helped force 5 turnovers to take a 33-24 lead into halftime. Llorens drained a pair of 3-pointers from the wing, as the hosts made 6 of 9 shots in the second.
With Grayslake North's Aidan Einloth (game-high 15 points, 5 rebounds) and point guard Bobby Krebs on the bench with a pair of fouls each, Grayslake Central took advantage.
"We started off hot," said Grayslake North's Dom DiProva, who opened the game by hitting a 3-pointer. "But then they came back and got the lead, and our defense didn't really step up. They started scoring a lot, and our offense couldn't come back."
The Rams continued running their motion offense effectively after halftime, turning the ball over only five times in building their lead to 52-35 heading into the fourth.
"It starts in the back court with Mudd and Reed," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said of what makes the Rams successful. "They not only apply ball pressure, but they can handle pressure, and then they distribute. They're smart. (No.) 30 (Llorens) is a good shooter, (No.) 14 (Anderson) is a good shooter, and they got a good post player in (No.) 55 (Jack Beckman). They maximize their possessions, and they play at their speed. But on the defensive end, they're always making you play their speed."
"When you're starting three point guards -- Sam (Ruhlmann) is really a '2' guard and Alex (Lennartz) is a '4' man -- if we can't pressure teams, we're going to be in trouble," Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe said.
Grayslake North also got 13 points from Drew Piggott and 8 from DiProva, who was back in the starting lineup after missing Saturday's game against Crystal Lake Central due to illness.
The Knights would have loved nothing better than spoiling their rival's perfect record in divisional play.
"That was our whole goal," Grunloh said. "That's pretty much all we talked about."
Grayslake Central visits Woodstock North on Friday, before concluding divisional play by hosting Woodstock next Tuesday.
"I was with most of these guys freshman year, and we had real good team chemistry," Mudd said. "I think that's helping out a lot, and I think our focus is great this year."