Crystal Lake South makes history, finishes FVC unbeaten with win over Hampshire

Crystal Lake South’s players, coaches and fans milled around the court at The Swamp in no particular hurry to leave Friday night.

It was a moment which needed the proper saturation.

The Gators had taken care of Hampshire 63-44 in their Fox Valley Conference boys basketball game to finish off a perfect conference season and set the school record for victories.

“To go 18-0 in conference is hard to do, not a lot of people do it,” forward James Carlson said. “This team has a bunch of chemistry and we bond so well. It’s not a surprise to me that we did this.

“At the beginning of the season we knew we were going to be a tough team to beat. Once we got rolling we couldn’t be beat.”

South (27-3, 18-0 FVC) joined teams from 1982, 1988 and 1993 as undefeated FVC champions. Its 27 wins broke the tie with the 1982 and 1988 teams.

“It’s quite the accomplishment,” Gators coach Matt LePage said. “To start the year we knew we had some pieces, but these guys really had to buy into their roles and they did such a great job throughout the season with that.

“We definitely earned all 18 of them. It’s a heck of an accomplishment. It’s a special group of guys.”

South graduated four starters from last season, but had the FVC’s tallest team and was led by 5-foot-11 point guard AJ Demirov, the leading scorer in the conference.

Their size – four starters taller than 6-foot-5 – was too much for the Whip-Purs (13-18, 7-11), whose tallest starer is 6-2 forward Adrien Ugochukwu. No other starter is taller than 6-0.

South opened up a 26-12 halftime lead with a 17-3 second-quarter advantage. Hampshire scored 17 in the third quarter and hit 5 of 10 field goals, but the Gators heated up in that quarter with freshman Carson Trivellini nailing two 3-pointers. Demirov scored nine points in the third quarter.

“We talked about being a little bit more aggressive (offensively), especially off the ball,” Whips coach Mike Featherly said. “That first half, even parts of the second, was stagnant. Guys weren’t cutting into the middle. The first time we played we were a lot more fluid.

“I get it, they’re a lot bigger than us. Defensively, there were too many missed assignments and we can’t do that. It’s hard enough to guard (Demirov) and then give up 10 to guys who don’t score that much.”

It was South’s first fVC title since 2019 when the Gators shared with Crystal Lake Central.

“We talked about this for a while,” Hess said. “We focused on each game, but in the back of our minds we wanted to get it. And we went out and got it tonight.”

Demirov led all players with 18 points, forward Colton Hess tossed in 15 and Trivellini added nine with three 3s. Ugorchukwu led the Whips with 13 points.

“Carson was awesome. He comes in and he’s so aggressive, ready to fire,” LePage said. “When he was out there and AJ playing off of each other and we were getting stops at the same time, a really nice complement of defense to offense. We played with a little more force.”

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