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posted: 1/8/2010 12:01 AM

MSL's best learn holiday lessons

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By Marty Maciaszek

Fremd and Prospect didn't get everything they wanted during the holidays.

The Mid-Suburban League boys basketball division leaders earned nice tournament gifts but the biggest prizes went elsewhere.

But the Vikings and Knights also hope to take what they received and use it toward something bigger and better down the road.

West-leading Fremd (12-1, 3-0), which visits Palatine at 7:30 p.m. today, suffered its first loss 71-55 to Neuqua Valley in the Elgin semifinals.

"I'm proud even though a lot of things didn't go right for us, we were able to stick with them and play this team to the end," said Fremd senior Chris Klimek of Neuqua, which went 31-2 and reached the Class 4A supersectional last year. "If we're going to be a good team we have to play competition like that."

Fremd shot just 14-for-33 at the free throw line and 30 percent from the field (18-for-60) with numerous good looks inside.

"We didn't finish like we wanted and to beat a team like Neuqua Valley you're going to have to do that," said Fremd coach Bob Widlowski, whose team rebounded to beat Rockford Auburn for third at Elgin. "I thought we attacked and were aggressive taking the ball to them and got the ball into the paint quite a bit, which we wanted to do.

"We were looking forward to playing them to see where we're at. I thought we were right there but we have to be more consistent."

Prospect (10-3, 3-0) fell short of its first holiday tourney title since 1965 at Pontiac when it lost 61-44 to Deerfield in the championship at Wheeling.

"It's nice to have a little hiccup now and it can only make us stronger," said Prospect senior guard Joe LaTulip. "We know what we did well and what we did wrong and that can only help us.

"It was a good learning experience for everyone."

And leaving Wheeling with a final-day loss was a lot better than departing with three of them in succession the previous two years.

"It was a lot nicer being able to play in the marquee game at 8:45 (p.m.) than at 10:30 (a.m.) after Christmas," LaTulip said. "It was nice to be in this situation. We'll work on it and only get better."

What the Pirates wanted: Palatine coach Eric Millstone hoped his team would have chances to play meaningful games after winning just 4 games a year ago.

The Pirates (7-9, 2-1) get their big opportunity tonight when they host crosstown rival and MSL West leader Fremd (12-1, 3-0).

"What better way than against Fremd," sophomore point guard Michael Orris said during the York tournament of the perfect opponent for a big-stage game.

"The goal we set for the season was to come out to win the conference and division," said senior forward Mykyta Cheshko, "and contend for a conference championship. That's what we want to do in the big picture."

The view of Palatine's sub-. 500 record is also a bit deceiving.

In a seven-game stretch through the York tournament the Pirates' five losses were by a combined 16 points. They included 12-3 St. Viator, North Suburban Lake leader Lake Forest, 9-4 York in overtime and York consolation champion Wheaton Warrenville South.

"We've been so close to teams with good records," Orris said. "We're right there and we have to learn to finish out games and beat those teams."

They hope Tuesday was a start in the right direction as they scored the last 7 points to beat Rolling Meadows 52-45.

Grens getting better: After losing nine of its first 10 games, Elk Grove got on a much-needed roll by winning its last three at Jacobs.

The Grenadiers were on the verge of extending their streak to four but couldn't hold a 5-point lead in the final 90 seconds of Tuesday's overtime loss to Schaumburg.

"Our last thing we said after the game was be proud of the effort and learn from our mistakes," said Elk Grove coach Anthony Furman, who team visits Buffalo Grove tonight. "There were mistakes but you were in a position you need to put yourselves in night in and night out.

"Everyone gave it everything they could but now we have to go back and take out, 'What can we do to run a better possession up five. We were up five on our heels and they were attacking."

Senior Brian Battaglia has also been on a roll with a 16.8 scoring average and nine 3-pointers in his last four games. Senior Donny Duschinsky, who hasn't played since scoring 19 points in the season opener because of a knee injury which required surgery, was in uniform and cleared to play but just returned to practice Monday.

Elk Grove also showed its capability in a 53-50 loss at 12-1 Fremd on Dec. 5. Now it's looking to complete the deal in those situations.

"Schaumburg is a heck of a program and it was a good opportunity for us," Furman said. "We will take the good away from it - but they're not satisfied and they know they had an opportunity."

Digging deep: Conant used 11 players in the first quarter of its last two games of York's Jack Tosh Holiday Classic.

"At the beginning of the year we were only using eight or nine guys but we're definitely going deeper with the way we're playing," said Conant senior guard Garett Gatz. "We're playing faster so we have to play harder."

The Cougars hope the waves of players and pressure defense can lead to some easier points for an undersized and perimeter-oriented team.

"We're actually finding ways to expand our rotation and that's a positive," said Conant coach Tom McCormack, whose team is at Barrington tonight. "Night in and night out we need to have that consistent effort defensively so when we don't shoot well we're able to get offense off our defense."

Conant's depth will really be vital in a brutal five games in eight days stretch to start February where it hosts Fremd and Barrington and has road trips to Deerfield, Glenbrook North and St. Joseph.

Saxons needed that: A 5-point deficit with less than 90 seconds to play in overtime Tuesday at Elk Grove had Schaumburg facing the prospect of a fifth straight loss.

But the Saxons responded with an 8-point run to take a better instead of bitter feeling into tonight's trip to MSL West rival Hoffman Estates.

"This was huge for us," said Schaumburg coach Matt Walsh. "I thought the kids believed in each other even when we went down 5 points in overtime.

"I always say experience is your best teacher and having been in those situations before helped us find a way to come out on top."

Schaumburg lost its second overtime game in its Pontiac tournament opener when a foul on a layup led to a tying 3-point play by Lockport at the regulation buzzer.

The next day the Saxons were headed home from the double-elimination tournament with a 1-point loss to the tourney hosts.

"It was a little disheartening to lose both games and we felt we should have been able to win both of them," said Schaumburg senior guard Declan Geraghty, whose 3-point play with 1.2 seconds left finished off Elk Grove on Tuesday. "It really made us better. We came to practice with a different mindset that we were going to do something about it."

Ready to make a run: Hersey hasn't won or lost more than two consecutive games this season but hopes to change the trend on the positive side when it goes for its third straight victory tonight at Rolling Meadows.

The Huskies went from giving up 7 first-half points to 19 in the third quarter of Tuesday's 50-36 win over Hoffman Estates. Their defense can't afford many lapses against area scoring leader Richie Kemph (20.3 ppg) of Meadows.

"Our defense is getting better but we're still fighting a lack of consistency defensively," said Hersey coach Steve Messer, "and eliminating bad turnovers and missed free throws. Those two would really turn things around."

A win would give the 8-6 Huskies a chance to play for the East lead on Jan. 16 at Prospect. Brian Fabrizius also returned Tuesday after missing the Pekin tournament with an ankle injury.

A busy weekend: Christian Liberty will be making up for not playing over the holiday break when it has four games in 24 hours next weekend.

The Chargers will host a four-time invitational on Saturday, Jan. 16 where each team plays three games. They'll face Elgin Academy (8:45 a.m.), Luther East (11:45 a.m.) and Lake Forest Academy (4 p.m.).

And at 7 p.m. next Friday the Chargers host Rockford Christian Life.

Nonconference MSL ties: Barrington and Buffalo Grove have nonconference games Saturday against a couple of coaches with familiarity to the MSL.

Barrington travels to Huntley, which is coached by former Hoffman Estates point guard Marty Manning. Buffalo Grove is at Niles West, which is 7-5 in its first year under former Schaumburg coach Bob Williams.

Manning will also return to his old stamping grounds when Huntley visits Hoffman on Jan. 30.

Free or foul: Elk Grove junior John Lorenz and Hoffman Estates senior Kevin Tiongson have been money at the free-throw line. Lorenz is hitting 96.7 percent (29-for-30) and Tiongson is at 94.7 (54-for-57).

But the percentages haven't been so hot in the area. The only teams above 70 percent are Hoffman at 71.8 despite going 3-for-16 on Tuesday and Rolling Meadows at 70.2.

Odds and ends: Barrington's six-game winning streak is its longest since it won nine in a row from Dec. 22, 2004 to Feb. 5, 2005 - St. Viator looks to end a four-game losing streak of extremes to East Suburban Catholic Conference rival Notre Dame tonight in Niles. Last year's margins were 1 point in the Wheeling tournament and 3 points in overtime but two years ago the gaps were 26 and 23 points - Leyden hopes to continue a roll where it has won five out of six when it hosts Downers Grove South tonight. Then the Eagles get a two-week layoff before visiting Proviso East - Hoffman Estates doesn't have the usual five games in four days grind this year since it didn't return to Rockton Hononegah's Martin Luther King weekend tourney - St. Joseph takes a 24-game ESCC winning streak into tonight's visit by Nazareth -Central Suburban North schedulemakers couldn't have drawn it up any better with co-leaders Deerfield (11-1, 3-0) and Wisconsin-bound Duje Dukan and Glenbrook North (10-2, 3-0) and Notre Dame recruit Alex Dragicevich meeting next Thursday in Deerfield. They'll also finish division play Feb. 19 in Northbrook.