Fenton routs South Elgin to clinch first Upstate Eight title

Conference champions.

Those two words carry special meaning for Fenton’s basketball team, which captured its first Upstate Eight Conference title following Tuesday night’s 42-27 victory over defending champion South Elgin (13-12, 11-4) in South Elgin.

The last time they had won a conference championship — 2006-2007, the Bison played in the Suburban Prairie East.

“It’s awesome,” said Bison coach Chaz Taft. “Open gyms in the spring, and then we started in the summer and the fall. The grind of it and going through it with these guys is awesome.”

Senior guard Xavior Gonzalez, who sat out his junior season following knee surgery, finished with a game-high 18 points, while classmate Alejandro Diaz added 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals for the Bison (24-4, 15-1), who outscored the Storm, 36-16, after falling behind 11-8 after one quarter.

“It was a little bit of a slow start, but it’s tough in the Upstate Eight in this gym with the band right behind us cranking away,” said Taft. “I just think it’s the whole atmosphere.”

Trailing 14-8 after 3 free throws from Storm junior guard Shailen Shukti (9 points), the Bison seized control with a 14-0 run over the final 6 minutes of the second quarter to grab a 22-14 halftime advantage.

Diaz, who capped the first half with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, and Gonzalez combined for all 14 of the team’s second-quarter points.

After South Elgin trimmed the deficit to 24-20 on Caden Scholl’s 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4:44 left in the first half, Gonzalez answered with 6 consecutive points — a 3-point play following a drive to the basket and a conventional 3-pointer, as Fenton built a 32-23 lead heading into the final 8 minutes.

The Bison outscored South Elgin 12-4 in the fourth quarter, setting off a team celebration as the final seconds ticked away.

“I’m enjoying the moment,” said Gonzalez. “I’m proud of these guys — we’ve worked so hard for this.”

Fenton’s trademark 1-3-1 zone defense made things difficult for South Elgin throughout, as the home team managed just 8 baskets while committing 19 turnovers.

The Bison had just 5 turnovers.

“We’re just hungry,” said Gonzalez. “We don’t take anything for granted. We just get after it.”

Diaz agreed.

“We had to get into them and couldn’t let them breathe,” said Diaz. “Just be a pest on the ball. Everybody has to move together; everybody has to hustle — those are the keys.”

Brandon Block chipped in with 8 points and 2 steals, while seniors Damian Harnish (5 rebounds) and Angel Olea (2 blocked shots, 2 rebounds) also contributed for the Bison.

“I’m so happy for all our guys,” said Taft. “Now, they can celebrate. Our last conference title was in 06-07, and before that, you got to go back to 1947 and 1945 (then-called Bensenville Community High School).”

“It’s everything right now,” said Diaz. “There’s so much happiness and joy. We worked for this the whole time that I’ve been here at Fenton. It’s great to see something like this happen.”

“We had this in our heads since the first day of open gym practices,” said Gonzalez. “We already knew what our goal was and what the standards were, and we just took it step by step and grinded it out.

“Every moment is special. I love these guys — they’re my family.”

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