With a 6-foot-6 frame and great quickness, Naperville North junior Tom Welch has displayed some impressive athleticism on both the soccer field and the basketball court.
The only occasional complaint that Huskies coach Jeff Powers has about his talented forward is that at times he might look a little too hard to make the extra pass or dish off to a teammate instead of going hard to the rim.
But Friday night, while his team was in a dogfight with visiting Metea Valley and playing without star center Chris Johnson, Naperville North asked a lot of Welch. He was plenty aggressive in the second half, tallying 12 of his game-high 19 points and leading the hosts to a 50-45 win over the Mustangs.
"We've been on Tommy to be more aggressive offensively," Powers said. "In the second half he started to do more things offensively that we know he can do. We keep telling Tom when you get the ball you've got to make something happen; go to the hole. He did a great job. In the second half he was pretty awesome."
You want aggressive? How about a pair of fourth-quarter slam dunks as the Huskies extended their 28-26 lead after three quarters into a double-digit advantage before the Mustangs made a late charge that included a pair of 3-pointers from Ethan Helwig.
Midway through the fourth quarter Welch soared to slam home a miss by teammate Jared McIntrye for a 41-33 lead. Later he threw down a jam for a 45-37 lead with less than two minutes to play.
"With Chris out I felt I had to step up," said Welch, who helped offset the absence of Johnson, who missed his second game while going through the concussion protocol. "I knew I had to step my game up and be more aggressive. When I'm playing well it benefits the whole team."
Welch, a goalkeeper who helped the Huskies win a second straight Class 3A soccer title in the fall, did a little of everything. He went 9 for 9 from the free-throw line, pulled down 6 rebounds and had 3 steals as Naperville North improved to 16-2 overall and 8-1 atop the DuPage Valley Conference.
"Free throws are always something that's contagious. When we started hitting, everyone was," said Welch, who helped the Huskies make 17 of 20 foul shots. "It was great that those went in. It helped us huge at the end of the game."
Metea Valley trailed 12-4 after one quarter but then hung tight throughout, closing to within 22-19 at the half and 28-26 heading into the fourth.
"I look at that Naperville North team … I told my guys, they're at the top of our conference for a reason," Mustangs coach Matt Walpole said. "And we battled them and battled them and battled to the best of our ability."
Helwig, who hit a pair of 3s late as Metea Valley (9-10, 4-6) tried to rally, finished with 15 points. Manny Hess added 8 points and 7 rebounds for the visitors.
"This is a resilient team," Walpole added. "I walked into the locker room and I drew a heart on the board, because I love the heart of our guys. And that's going to help them down the road. I truly believe that."