Cold shooting costs St. Francis

  • Riverside-Brookfield's Cory Baker (right) is blocked by Nikolas Rowlan (24) of St. Francis during a game at St. Francis in Wheaton on Friday, March 5, 2021. A foul was called on Rowlan.

    Riverside-Brookfield's Cory Baker (right) is blocked by Nikolas Rowlan (24) of St. Francis during a game at St. Francis in Wheaton on Friday, March 5, 2021. A foul was called on Rowlan. Sandy Bressner/sbressner@shawmedia.com

  • Sebastian Miller of St. Francis shoots the ball during a game against Riverside-Brookfield at St. Francis in Wheaton on Friday, March 5, 2021.

    Sebastian Miller of St. Francis shoots the ball during a game against Riverside-Brookfield at St. Francis in Wheaton on Friday, March 5, 2021. Sandy Bressner/sbressner@shawmedia.com

  • Brendan Yarusso of St. Francis dribbles the ball past Riverside-Brookfield's Brady Vaia during a game at St. Francis in Wheaton on Friday, March 5, 2021.

    Brendan Yarusso of St. Francis dribbles the ball past Riverside-Brookfield's Brady Vaia during a game at St. Francis in Wheaton on Friday, March 5, 2021. Sandy Bressner/sbressner@shawmedia.com

  • Jack Brennan of St. Francis shoots against Riverside-Brookfield Friday in Wheaton.

    Jack Brennan of St. Francis shoots against Riverside-Brookfield Friday in Wheaton. Sandy Bressner/sbressner@shawmedia.com

 
 
Updated 3/5/2021 9:44 PM

Riverside-Brookfield junior forward Joe Gilhooley earned an express entry into the world of big-time high school basketball.

A year ago, Gilhooley was playing on the sophomore team. He didn't play a single second on the varsity, but gained valuable insight by practicing with the varsity late in the season.

 

Gilhooley said he wasn't bothered by not getting a varsity call-up last season, noting that he benefitted from playing extensive minutes on the lower levels, which helped build his confidence.

"It was good for me last year, just to be out there and plus we had a good year, so I got a lot of experience," Gilhooley said.

So far this season, Gilhooley hasn't missed a step -- probably even jumping a few steps -- by becoming a key starter for the Bulldogs.

That was clearly evident in Friday's rough-and-tumble road game against St. Francis. Gilhooley scored a game-high 13 points to lead the Bulldogs to a 52-42 win in Metro Suburban play.

John Hanley scored 12 points and Brady Vaia pumped in 11, including six in the fourth quarter, for the Bulldogs. Sebastian Miller had 10 points, while Brendan Yarusso and Nick Ciombor both had eight for the Spartans (5-6, 5-3).

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St. Francis failed to make a single 3-pointer but stayed in the game by shooting 18-for-20 from the free-throw line. The Spartans only scored four points in the final four minutes.

"I was very proud of our kids' effort," St. Francis coach Erin Dwyer said. "I thought both teams were fighting hard. We made a few nice defensive plays in the second half, but we just didn't convert on them. You have to give Riverside-Brookfield credit."

Led by a strong group of juniors, the Bulldogs (10-1, 8-1) stayed in contention for the conference crown, and captured their ninth win in a row. The Bulldogs' lone loss came against Wheaton Academy, as Timothy Christian remains atop the conference standings at 9-0. The Bulldogs host the Trojans in their final game of the season on March 13.

The 6-foot-3 Gilhooley helped keep the Bulldogs' winning streak intact with a consistent effort throughout the game.

"We've been getting on Joe all year long for being a little more aggressive and getting to the rim," Riverside-Brookfield coach Mike Reingruber said. "We made a point of it, especially in the second half of getting him the ball and getting things going. Once he got a couple of easy looks that started opening things up for some other guys."

The Bulldogs did everything right on defense for the first two quarters, holding the Spartans to two points in the first quarter to take a 15-13 lead at halftime. The Bulldogs, though, had their own offensive issues for most of the game until Gilhooley sparked the revival with seven third-quarter points. Cory Baker scored five key points in the final two minutes to stave off a comeback by the Spartans.

"This game is the first time I felt really comfortable playing my game," Gilhooley said. "I had a couple of good practices in a row and it showed tonight. I've been playing with a few of these guys for most of my life, so it's finally good to get on the same team as all of them. We're finally starting to all mesh together, and it's been great."

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