The late Ron Cregier, who helmed Schaumburg's boys basketball program for 13 years (1978-91), once said that due to the MSL's competitive nature, "it wouldn't be a surprise that an MSL divisional champion had at least two losses, maybe three."
Those words proved prophetic in the winter of 1987, when Cregier's Saxons won the school's first MSL divisional and conference crowns by prevailing over Fremd in the MSL title game. In that season, Schaumburg earned its spot in the championship matchup by winning a tiebreaker with Rolling Meadows after both finished with 7-3 records.
It's shaping up as that kind of season once again. The MSL West is in a four-way tie at the midway point of divisional play.
Schaumburg's 49-36 win at Palatine leaves Palatine, Barrington, Conant and Fremd at 3-2. Schaumburg is 2-3, and Hoffman Estates is 1-4.
"Our guys stayed focused tonight," Schaumburg coach Wade Heisler said of his team's performance. "As we go forward in the year, we talk about being consistent and keeping that consistency in the core concepts of the game: defense, rebounding, shot selection, free throws, loose balls. We got what we needed."
The game's early going was to Heisler's liking as the Saxons (7-12, 2-3) held the home team to 1-for-7 from field in the game's first eight minutes while building a 13-2 advantage.
Schaumburg's lead got as high as 19-5 after 2 of junior swingman Michael Hodges' game-high 17 points. But a 10-2 Pirates run over the final 4:35 of the opening half got Palatine within 21-15 at the break on a drive in the lane by 6-3 senior forward Johnny O'Shea (team-high 13 points).
The Pirates slowly clawed their way back to even with an 8-1 run over the first 2:30 of the final quarter, evening things at 30 on a Lamon Berry 3.
Then Heze Trotter took over for Schaumburg. First, the third-year varsity letterwinner fed Jerry Clark for a 3 that gave Schaumburg the lead for good at 33-30 with 4:39 to play.
Soon after, Trotter made a pass to Hodges inside, and he turned it into a 3-point play for a 36-30 lead. Hodges then returned the favor with a dish in the paint to Trotter and Schaumburg led 38-30.
Palatine (10-7, 3-2) got within 6 on an O'Shea layup before an 11-2 Saxons run settled matters once and for all.
"We started off well," Trotter said. "We got good looks at the basket, plus we moved the ball around to get those looks."
Trotter, who tied 6-8 freshman Chris Hodges with 13 rebounds, traces the Saxons' recent success (with 3 wins in their last 4 games) to unity.
"We're starting to gain confidence in one another," Trotter said. "Coach Heisler likes to break the season down in three stages. Right now, we're in the middle stage where we're starting to put things in the right places."
For Palatine, the annual trek to Lake Zurich for the Bears annual MLK weekend tournament begins today with games against Maine East (1 p.m.) and the host Bears (7 p.m.). The Pirates are hoping to right the ship after dropping their fifth game in the last seven.
"We've had trouble in recent games where we've gotten off to a bad start," said Palatine coach Eric Millstone. "A lot of which had to do with Schaumburg's defense. There's not a lot of time for our team to dwell on this game, with 4 games in two days coming up. It will definitely test our mettle."