Eck's hot start helps Hinsdale C. down Oswego E. for tourney title

Updated 12/29/2022 11:28 PM

Emerson Eck and his Hinsdale Central teammates lined up as they were handed red, black and white ski caps given to the tournament champions.

Others quickly donned them, but Eck held onto his.


No matter. The way The Hinsdale Central senior was shooting Thursday, he had no need for an accessory to stay warm.

Eck hit his first four 3-point attempts, and made five of the Red Devils' seven shots from beyond the arc. That hot shooting, and his team's collective toughness, was the difference as Hinsdale Central beat Oswego East 54-41 to win its Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic for the first time.

Eck made just 2 of his 15 3-point attempts over Hinsdale Central's first three games of the week. But it was a distant memory the way he was cooking Thursday in his home gym.

"Last couple games I hadn't been shooting that great, but [assistant] coach [Jeff] Powers gave me all the confidence that I needed and it really paid off today," said Eck, 5 of 7 from distance. "This here, it means everything. Last year we came in third, and that was our highest finish before this. We felt we had a chance to win it."

Hinsdale Central (12-3), playing in its championship game for the first time, led all the way after Eck's first 3-pointer gave the Red Devils a 7-6 lead with 3:14 left in the first quarter. Hinsdale Central led by as many as 16 in avenging a 10-point November loss to Oswego East. The Red Devils held Oswego East, also last year's tournament runner-up, to 36.7% shooting and outrebounded their visitors 34-23.

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"I thought we played so much tougher and so much stronger," Eck said. "We are a lot better team than the first time we played them."

And the Red Devils did it despite a relatively modest night from their star, Michigan baseball recruit Ben Oosterbaan. Oosterbaan, named the tournament MVP renamed this year in memory of late former St. Charles East standout Justin Hardy, had scored a combined 74 points the tournament's first three games.

Oosterbaan scored just 11 on six shot attempts, seven coming in the first half with a fallaway 3-pointer that got Hinsdale Central out to an 18-8 start.

He sat the last half of the second quarter with two fouls, but even without him the Red Devils extended the lead to 28-12 at one point.

"My teammates are so good, everybody on this team has so much talent," said Oosterbaan, who fouled out with just over three minutes left and the game well in hand. "Anybody can have an off night. They'll pick each other up."


Eck, for one, was glad to do it.

"Ben was the best player in this tournament," Eck said. "When he was in foul trouble all the other guys on this team just had to pick him up."

Towson recruit Mekhi Lowery had 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists and Jehvion Starwood eight points for Oswego East (13-3).

The top-seeded Wolves rallied from behind to win their first-round game this week with Lincoln-Way Central, but looked out of sync from the start Thursday. Oswego East had two layups roll out in the first half, and airballed a three. Lowery had a strong start, a power move at the rim and dunk in transition in the game's first minutes. But it was short-lived.

"We just weren't hitting our shots and they are at home -- when they got that momentum it was hard for us to get it back," Lowery said. "That's not an excuse. We weren't hitting shots, we weren't in those gaps, we didn't play our game. We fought hard but we didn't play our game all the way through."

While Hinsdale Central was cooking from distance, 7 of 12, Oswego East was in a deep chill most of the night. The Wolves were just 1 for 13 from three, and 4 for 10 on free throws.

"I'm not sure what it was," Lowery said. "We always emphasize coming out with a punch. Today we just didn't do it."

Oswego East scored the last six points of the first half for new life, down 28-18, and Tyler Jasek's follow shot out of halftime made it an eight-point game. But Eck answered with a corner three, and Evan Phillips, who scored nine points, hit one when the Wolves later closed to within eight again.

Billy Cernugel added 11 points and seven rebounds and Chase Collignon had eight rebounds for Hinsdale Central.

"It means so much to win this," Oosterbaan said. "Watching this tournament, growing up in this town, I went to all the games with all these great teams here. It means a lot to put our names up there along with them."

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