Lake Park falls in electric atmosphere at Lyons Township
Friday night's 15th edition of Lyons Township's regular season home finale is affectionately known as "The Blackout Game."
It features a homecoming-like atmosphere with raffles and giveaways plus the host Lions donning black home uniforms with the regular school colors of blue and gold as they would face a 20-win Lake Park team that finished second to Wheaton Warrenville South in the DuKane Conference.
However, for Julie and Joe Niego of Western Springs, this game took an even bigger meaning.
It marked the 121st and final time in regular season play they saw one of their five sons, senior guard Jackson, at home competing for LT.
Jackson, an Illinois Wesleyan recruit, was playing at home for the 23rd time for the Lions who host a Class 4A regional next week. He joined his four older brothers in combining to have suited up a grand total of 172 times during 10 of the past 11 seasons sans the six-week COVID-19 shortened season of two winters ago.
The full list includes Grant (2018-20, 23 games), Nolan (2015-19, 51 games), Connor (2014-17, 39 games) and Harrison (2012-15, 36 games).
"That's crazy," Jackson Niego said of this statistical bit of trivia after his Lions held off a pugnacious Lake Park squad 52-46 before a capacity crowd in LaGrange.
"It's what you dream as a kid," Niego said as his 10 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds helped LT finish the regular season at 24-5 before the Lions, seeded fifth in the Class 4A Hinsdale Central, host No. 10 Chicago Jones in the opening round on Wednesday.
"I watched my four older brothers play in this same game and I'm out here doing the same thing."
It would be during the final five minutes of the third that Niego along with fellow senior guard Niklas Polonowski (team-high 17 points) ignited what turned out to be decisive rally by going on 13-2 run that put them ahead 39-28 at the 2:23 mark and 42-32 going into the fourth. Polonowski connected from beyond the arc twice as he took feeds from Niego while Niego himself scored a pair of baskets including a coast-to-coast drive with 3:42 left in the period.
The visiting Lancers (20-10) could get no closer than the final margin twice in the final 26 seconds including a three from junior guard Cam Cerese which ended his game-high tally of 23 points and an A.D. Notardonato layup at the buzzer.
Despite the setback, it left Lancers coach Billy Pitcher optimistic about his team's postseason prospects as his fifth-seeded unit in the 4A Bartlett sectional begins regional play Wednesday vs. fellow DKC member and No. 12 Wheaton North at the Willowbrook regional.
"In 13 years as a head coach this is the biggest crowd in a regular season game I've ever coached," Pitcher said. "What an amazing atmosphere. We're grateful for the opportunity. I thought our kids took the most out of it. I'm so proud of our guys and how we fought and got and scratched back after we got down 10-11 (points). It's a great experience for our guys."