Willowbrook earns share of West Suburban Gold title
Smelling a shot of a share of a conference crown, Willowbrook came out blazing Tuesday night and closed out the regular season with a win over the visiting Addison Trail Blazers.
The Warriors exploded for 29 first-quarter points as Marquel Saleek and Joe Tumilty each came out on fire, and after taking a 45-30 lead at the half, they finished off Addison Trail by a score of 77-57. It was the team's 20th win of the year -- and 15th in their last 16 games -- and Willowbrook claimed a share of the West Suburban Gold with a 10-2 mark. Both Morton and Proviso East entered the night's action with a shot at also going 10-2 and claiming a share of the crown.
Saleek had a 3-pointer and a slam dunk as part of his 11 first-quarter points, but it was only the beginning as he added another slam and a 3 in the second quarter on his way to 18 points as the hosts took a 15-point lead at the intermission.
"Throughout the season we just learn how to play with each other more and now we're kind of in a playoff mode," said Saleek, who finished with a game-high 27 points and 4 steals. "So, I feel like we just understood what we had to do and what we had on the table. We were trying to win conference tonight. That was our goal and we did it."
While Saleek was indeed putting on a big show for the home fans in the regular season finale, he was not alone by any means. Tumilty knocked down four 3s while tallying 15 of his 16 points in the first half, and Noah Campbell added 15 points and 4 steals for the conference champs, who will open the state playoffs next week against York.
"Campbell and Saleek are two big scorers for them, but when they come out and get a three-headed monster going it's tough to defend," Blazers coach Brendan Lyons said after his team fell to 13-16, 3-9 after falling a second time to Willowbrook. "I give our guys credit. I thought we battled. We chipped it away to about 10 in the fourth quarter and had a chance to make a run, and their guys stepped up and made big plays."
The Warriors have been making plenty of big plays since the calendar turned to 2022, and now they look like a team no one wants to face in the tournament.
"We came out that first quarter and shot the ball really well. We knew we had a lot on the line as far as conference goes and the kids came out ready to go," Warriors coach Chris Perkins said. "To AT's credit they kept on coming and making us sweat it out pretty much. But our guys were determined to close the deal at home tonight, and when we get multiple guys going we're a tougher out for sure."
Nathan Johnson paced the Blazers with 13 points and 9 rebounds and freshman Luke Smith added 11 points and 8 rebounds. Addison Trail takes on Lake Park in its regional opener next Wednesday.
As for Saleek and his teammates, Tuesday's excitement sends them off to the postseason on a high.
"We're trying to imitate playoff energy right now so we can get used to the playoffs. The bench was into it, they were yelling, and the crowd was into it," the senior said. "Everyone was amped for that environment."