Wheaton North tackles another victory
Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald was not in attendance on Friday to watch prized linebacker recruit Xander Mueller of Wheaton North play a different sport, basketball.
But had Fitzgerald been there, he would have been really impressed to see Mueller scrapping for loose balls on the hardwood and his overall hard-nosed play in the paint on offense and defense.
The 6-foot-4 Mueller came up with a couple of big steals in the final 1:51 of the fourth quarter, including one where he looked like he was going for a fumble recovery. He also scored 6 clutch late points to help lead the way for the Falcons' 65-53 victory over Riverside-Brookfield at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York. Wheaton North advanced in the championship bracket and will play Hinsdale South at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
"That's my favorite part of the game -- I love getting on the floor and diving for the ball," said Mueller, who led the Falcons in scoring with 17 points. "Everyone on the team showed great effort. We kept playing hard no matter what."
"He is a freak athlete and does all the little things," said Wheaton North coach Dave Brackmann. "Every team would love to have a guy like Xander. He is great for us."
Wheaton North (6-4) and the Bulldogs took turns early on with quick strike scoring runs. The Falcons opened the game with 10 answered points and then Riverside-Brookfield (6-5) rallied back with a 8-0 spurt. The Bulldogs led 25-23 at the end of the first quarter and the Falcons took a 46-42 lead to the locker room at halftime.
Led by the play of forward Ben Bonga, Wheaton North surged in the second half to take command. Bonga poured in 12 points in the third quarter mostly on inside moves and he showed a strong effort despite all the energy he had to expend guarding the Bulldogs top player Paul Zilinskas.
"I was trying to be patient and let the game come to me and not force anything," said Bonga, who finished with 15 points. "I got going on a quick hitter that the coaches drew up to get me going which sparked a great third quarter for me."
"Usually when you ask a player to guard the other team's best player, their offense struggles," Brackmann said. "For him in the second half to not be worn down and step up and score like that was huge for us."
Zach Lorentsen drained a pair of 3-pointers in the third too for the Falcons. Lorentsen finished with 14 points, including a clutch 6-for-6 shooting performance from the foul line in the final 2:30 of the contest. Garrett Horner also contributed 16 points. The Falcons finished the game with a 12-5 scoring advantage.
Riverside-Brookfield hit some key 3-pointers in the first half but didn't have the same long-range success in the second half as they had to play catch up.
Zilinskas led the Bulldogs with 13 points. Luke Gentile, Dylan Meehan and Jamir Truman each scored 8 points. Truman was really active on the offensive glass.
"Jamir did a nice job," said Riverside-Brookfield coach Mike Reingruber. "When he is playing like that, we are pretty good. Based on our lack of size overall, he needs to be very active and sometimes has to play bigger that he is. I thought he did that in stretches today.
"(The Falcons) did a real nice job in the third quarter of attacking us inside using their strength beating us around the rim a little bit in that run they had in the late third quarter. That proved to be a big difference in the second half."
For Wheaton North, Brackmann was pleased to see the team's progress.
"Credit to our guys for sticking with the program," he said. "We are a team that is trying to improve. We have had some tough losses. The last two days we played really well in the second half in get wins."