A stinging final loss for Mundelein's seniors
They were benched.
Trey Baker and Scottie Ebube were still stuck in their chairs. They didn't want to get up off the Mundelein bench on Friday night.
Long after the gym at St. Patrick had cleared out, and their teammates had gone back to their dressing area behind the curtains of the stage located behind one basket, Baker and Ebube, senior starters on the team, sat alone on the bench. Just sitting quietly. Somber. Not wanting to leave.
Because leaving was, in a sense, leaving behind their high school careers.
"Just trying to soak it all in," Baker said, looking around the gym. "It's tough. It stings."
"I just don't want to," Ebube said of leaving the bench. "It is (ending too soon)."
In this strange COVID-shortened season with no state tournament, Baker, Ebube and the rest of their Mundelein teammates saw their run together end too soon. They were invited to the only nonconference end-of-season tournament in the Chicago area, the Chipotle Clash of Champions. After running through the North Suburban Conference undefeated, they had high hopes for a run through the Chipotle.
But a missing star, combined with the strong play of a high Division I player from Fenwick, spelled trouble for the Mustangs, who left the north side of Chicago with a 60-51 loss to Fenwick in the quarterfinals. The tournament is a single-elimination tournament. So Mundelein is out, and done with its season.
It is the end of a Cinderella run for Mundelein, which went 13-2 this season and 43-6 over the last two years, after winning single-digit games for several seasons in a row just five years ago.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs, as their turnaround was reaching its pinnacle, COVID struck and the last two IHSA state tournaments have been erased, thus depriving this resilient and compelling group the opportunity to find out just how good they were against the state's best.
"I think we'll carry the experience (of the program's turnaround) with us for the rest of our lives," said Mundelein forward Jack Bikus, who remembers watching his older brother struggle through some of Mundelein's leanest seasons. "It means a lot. We had a great ride and we cherish every moment we had. But it's hard. Two straight years without a state finals is really tough, especially knowing what we could do. And having Conor out for this one really stinks too."
Mundelein star point guard Conor Enright, a four-year starter and a Drake signee, was not able to play in the game.
He was on the bench in sweats and a big boot on his right foot. Last weekend, Enright sprained his ankle in a game against Carmel. It's a Grade 2 sprain and he will be grounded for six to eight weeks.
"I was really looking forward to this, especially with this being our closure," Enright said. "To not even be able to play just stunk. I was on the sideline hyping everyone up and coaching. We just couldn't get the win, and to not play with these guys was horrible.
"This is one of the greatest groups at Mundelein. And it just feels like we got robbed. Last year, COVID took (the state tournament) away, and this year got taken away. I feel like we got gypped a little bit. We've shown what we are. But in the end, what we really wanted, we couldn't get. But I am happy that we just got a season."
Mundelein clung to a 29-27 halftime lead. Ebube missed much of the first half in foul trouble, so Baker and Bikus stepped up, scoring 11 and 9 first-half points respectively. Baker finished with 11 points, and Bikus had 13 points. Ebube scored a team-high 15 points.
Fenwick (13-2) switched up its defense at halftime and played much of the second half in a 1-3-1, and that seemed effective.
The Friars slowly pulled ahead and had a 3-point lead (43-40) at the end of the third quarter. They then closed out the game strong, outscoring Mundelein 8-3 in the final two minutes.
Bryce Hopkins, a 6-foot-7 forward who will be playing at Kentucky next year, had 4 key free throws down the stretch. He finished with a game-high 31 points.
The Friars, who were dancing together in their huddle after the win and will play against DePaul Prep Saturday afternoon in the semifinals at Notre Dame, also got 18 points from junior guard Denium Juette.
"We are just so excited," Hopkins said. "We didn't even think we were going to have a season, so to be able to keep playing for a championship here is such a cool way to end the season.
"This means everything. To be able to play against a good team like Mundelein and get the win, we're just so happy. We locked in on defense and got stops and we eventually scored the ball."