St. Viator pulls away from Taft
Eli Aldana was quite familiar with the Cahill Gymnasium before he arrived on the St. Viator campus just seven months ago.
The Lions' freshman guard used to watch his sister Erin perform for the girls volleyball team as an all-conference setter.
As a point guard, Eli knows something about handing out assists as well.
He also showed Saturday he knows how to lend a helping hand with his scoring prowess.
Aldana complemented senior standout Connor Kochera's game-high 20 points with a career-high 16 of his own as the Lions pulled away late in the third quarter for a 51-36 nonconference boys basketball triumph over visiting Taft.
Just a little more than two weeks ago, Aldana was playing for the Lions' sophomore team.
Saturday's matinee was his fifth game coming off the bench for the varsity and he saw his most playing time on the varsity, spanning about 24 minutes.
"I was so happy," said the St. Hubert (Hoffman Estates) graduate about joining his new teammates. "I just play as hard as I can every time and see what happens."
It just so happened that Aldana was in the middle of the Lions' winning rally when he converted two of his four 3-pointers in the contest.
The Eagles (17-10) fell behind 25-17 early in the second but got a 3-pointer and a layup from senior Chino Garcia to get to within 25-23 with 4:48 left in the third quarter, the closest they had been since 6:12 of the first quarter.
However, the Lions were able to answer the Eagles' surge as Kochera drove the lane for a 10-footer off the glass to ignite a 15-2 run.
Jack Mahoney's 3-pointer made it 30-23 and moments later, Alanda hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 36-25 after three quarters.
"Eli is playing great," Kochera said. "He is definitely feeling more comfortable on the varsity. He just keeps on improving, it's awesome to see. We welcomed him with open arms. We knew what he brings to this team and we're happy to have him."
When the Eagles got to within 2, the Lions (18-7) didn't panic.
"We just knew we had to get stops on defense, "Kochera said. "We really weren't worried at the time. We just kept playing our game.
"We knew we could pull away if we kept getting stops and then focusing on offense -- not taking bad shots and not turning the ball over."
Lions coach Quin Hayes felt his team took a few too many long range shots in the second quarter when each team scored only 4 points.
"We weren't shooting well," he said. "Overall, though, I liked our defense. At one point in the second quarter we had 10 stops in a row. We were able to hold them defensively so I was proud of that."
South Middle School grad Michael Campagna chipped in 9 points, including a big 3-pointer in the first quarter that made it 8-2.
David Loch's putback cut the lead in half but Kochera came back with a 3-pointer and a steal and dunk that extended the lead to 13-4.
"He's a Division I basketball player and he is well coached," said Taft coach Jason Tucker. "That's why he scored 20 points today. He's a great player.
"They had more experience than us. Their coach has been with them a long time and this is our second year together with these guys so we're still trying to mesh and do something We'll get there."
Evidently, Aldana is getting there pretty quickly in terms of finding his way on the varsity.
"He is still getting used to the varsity level, the speed and physicality of it," Hayes said. " When he was out there, he had only one turnover and that's a heck of a job for a freshman to take care of the ball like that.
"He is playing real well for us right now. For a freshman, he is really composed and doesn't rattled."
"These guys welcomed me so well and I just felt apart of the team right away," Aldana said. "They give me confidence. I enjoy hitting the 3-pointers but I just do whatever the coach wants me to do."
Matthew Lesch and Garcia led the Eagles with 11 points apiece while Loch added 10.
"They run a lot of good sets and good inbounds plays," Hayes said. "It's a tough matchup. Credit to Jason (Tucker), He plays a lot of different teams, so that's special."