Fine finish helps Westminster Christian past Schaumburg Christian
At the beginning of the fourth quarter of Thursday's Northeastern Athletic Conference clash between Westminster Christian and host Schaumburg Christian, Warriors coach Andy Zielinski had a very frank assessment of his team's performance over the previous three quarters.
Westminster Christian was leading 35-34, but Zielinski wasn't enthralled.
"It wasn't very pretty," Zielinski said. "We were a step slow. We weren't shooting the ball well, especially at the foul line (12-for-27). Then the fact that this has become a rivalry between the two schools makes it an even harder task."
Despite all that, Westminster used a 9-2 mid fourth-quarter surge to pull out a 48-40 victory in the SCS Life Center to win its sixth straight.
Six-foot-6 senior center Ben Versluys, who paced the Warriors with a team-high 16 points and 12 rebounds, paid homage to his teammates' defensive effort, especially in the second half.
"In the first half we did not play to our full strength, especially on defense," Versluys said. "In the second half, we became more aggressive."
The Warriors (9-1, 4-0) first had no answer for Schaumburg Christian's Matt Winters, who had his game-high 21 points (including six 3s) through those first 24 minutes. But thanks to the Westminster defensive effort, Winters was held scoreless during the final quarter on 0-for-5 shooting.
"We did a really good job in picking him up in that last quarter and it got us going offensively," Versluys said.
After a Brett Barker free throw, Warriors guard Jorden Warrener scored 6 of the 14 points in the decisive run, including a putback with 2:04 left that put Westminster up 44-36.
The Conquerors (1-6, 0-4) got within 44-40 with 1:26 remaining on a Joey Alsum layup and a Seth Polinton hoop in the paint before 4 Will Kmieiak free throws settled matters.
For first-year Conqueror coach Kyle McVey, his team's ability to stay focused has been a matter of concern. Schaumburg Christian has dropped six straight.
"Our last couple of games have come down to what happened this evening, where we've lost games due to losing our focus in the fourth quarter," McVey said. "It truly can make the difference between winning and losing."
McVey, a starting guard on state title teams in the Illinois Association Of Christian Schools from 2005-2008, still lauds his team's effort.
"I love how we keep fighting despite the fact that we have a small rotation," McVey said.
For Westminster, a return to the hardwood after Christmas awaits them next Thursday and Friday at the two-day, four-game Christian Liberty Academy Shootout in Arlington Heights. The Warriors will face the host school after playing Morgan Park Academy of Chicago in game one. The Warriors will then match up with CICS-Northtown and North Shore Country Day on Friday.
"It will be a challenge for us," Zielinski said. "It's going to be a lot of work for us over such a short time."
In the meantime, Schaumburg Christian will take the holiday break off before returning to action with a nonconference game at home versus Crossroads Academy of Big Rock on Jan. 9. Then it's on to their biggest challenge to date as a full-fledged IHSA member with games at Wheaton Warrenville South's MLK weekend tournament.
"I think it will be cool for us to play some completely different competition," said McVey, who is in his third year as the school's athletic director.
He also enjoys the fun of having all of the Conquerors boys teams competing in the school's first season in the NAC.
"I like it," McVey said. "I think it's great playing all the different schools we face."