Highland Park holds off gutsy effort from Vernon Hills

By Bill McLean
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 1/17/2020 10:36 PM

Vernon Hills' boys basketball players tossed rolled-up T-shirts to their fans in the stands after introductions Friday night.

What the Cougars did not throw in their Central Suburban League North game against visiting Highland Park, after falling behind 10-0 and 25-11: the towel.


Determined, feisty, indefatigable Vernon Hills -- facing a 25-15 deficit at halftime -- got a 3-pointer from sophomore forward Erik Rimas in its first possession of the third quarter, outscored the Giants 15-4 in the frame and then went up 32-29 on a Rimas field goal in the second minute of the fourth quarter.

But Highland Park, which loves making defensive stops almost as much as snowplow drivers love snowy nights, held Vernon Hills scoreless in the final 5:03 and escaped with a 38-35 victory.

"I cannot wait until that guy graduates," Highland Park coach Paul Harris, standing near his team's locker room door, said with a look of relief, referring to 6-foot-5 Cougars senior forward Jack Barszcz, who poured in 8 of his game-high 13 points in the third stanza.

"He's a really good basketball player. He can post up. He can pass. He can shoot the '3'. Defense -- he plays that well, too. And he's an excellent rebounder. He's hard to cover.

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"(Vernon Hills coach) Matt (McCarty)," Harris added, "does a good job moving him around."

Barszcz hit the floor hard to secure an offensive rebound at 1:47 of the third quarter, and an alert McCarty called a timeout as Highland Park hoopsters neared the fallen Cougar and hoped to earn a jump-ball call. Vernon Hills retained possession. Vernon Hills (8-10, 1-4 in the CSL North) was in the midst of a 10-2 run, with Barszcz tallying 8 in the surge, including a pair of putback buckets.

The Cougars enjoyed their first advantage of the game with 1:18 remaining in the third quarter, thanks to a steal-and-basket sequence from senior guard Aiden Isaacson (4 points).

"We knew we weren't out of it, even though we entered the game as a huge underdog," Barszcz said.

Rimas' final points of his 11-point night came on his third successful '3' ball. It gave the hosts a 35-31 lead.

Highland Park (9-5, 4-1) capped its triumph with a 7-0 run in the final 5:03. The visitors had inched ahead 36-35 on a clutch trey by Giants senior guard Zach Fagenholz (8 points).


"I'm proud, really proud, of the defense we played in the second half, and we took better care of the ball after halftime," said McCarty, whose previous two squads edged Highland Park on Vernon Hills's court. "Highland Park has tremendous shooters."

Highland Park netted the first 10 points of the game in 4:43. A little more than a minute later, Barszcz hit a 3-pointer to replace the '0' on Vernon Hills's side of the scoreboard.

Highland Park appeared to be in complete control when Giants senior big man Val Oplchenski (8 points, 7 rebounds) expanded the lead to 25-11 via an easy bank shot at the 1:42 mark of the second quarter.

Junior guard Billy Rudman paced Highland Park with 9 points, and classmate Nate Fleisher struck for all 6 of his points in a 1-minute, 12-second span the second quarter.

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