Sularski helps rally Benet to St. Charles East crown
Less than two minutes into Saturday's game to decide the champion of the Ron Johnson/St. Charles East Thanksgiving basketball tournament, Benet Academy lost 6-foot-7 senior forward Parker Sulaver to an ankle injury.
Midway through the opening quarter, the Redwings fell behind Proviso East, 10-2, as a second-chance opportunity resulted in Ramsey Momon's 3-pointer, and Momon's steal and layup forced Benet coach Gene Heidkamp to burn a timeout.
The Redwings regrouped - and then some.
Led by Justin Hardy tournament Most Valuable Player Award recipient Gabe Sularski, the Redwings finished the first quarter on a 12-2 run to grab a 14-12 lead.
From there, Benet (4-0) seized control of the game in the middle 2 quarters, outscoring the Pirates (3-2) 40-20, on the way to a 73-58 tournament title-winning triumph.
Sularski, a 6-6 sophomore, finished with 16 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and a pair of steals for the Redwings.
"Justin Hardy's parents came to us a couple days before the tournament started and his story was said (to us)," Sularski said of the former Saints and Washington University standout basketball player who passed away in May of 2022 following a battle with stomach cancer.
"I just wanted to win this championship and MVP for him. It really means a lot to me."
Sularski received a great deal of support from his teammates, particularly his bench, against Proviso East.
Led by 7-foot sophomore center Colin Stack's 17 points and 6 rebounds, the Redwings' bench outscored the Pirates, 36-12.
"We got 36 points and 10 assists off our bench," said Heidkamp. "They really stepped up and met the challenge. "It hurt when Parker (Sulaver) went down early. He's our veteran - our only returning starter from last year. I thought the guys off the bench did a good job of trying to pick up the slack.
"Our younger guys stepped up and some of our older guys off the bench did as well. They contributed and there wasn't much letup throughout the game. We were able to run multiple people in and they all contributed in a big way."
Senior Nick Schroeder came off the bench to score 8 points, while junior guard Blake Fagbemi added 5 points, 9 assists, and 3 rebounds in 25 minutes. Jason Garcia, Brett Nolan, and Ewola Moukoulou also contributed.
Stack connected on 6 of 8 field goal attempts and 5 of 6 free throws in just 15 minutes of playing time.
"Colin gave us a huge boost off the bench," said Heidkamp. "He did a great job of finishing. He was able to move his feet and not get beat on the defensive end. He contributed in multiple ways."
Junior all-tournament selection Daniel Pauliukonis added 12 points for the Redwings, who earlier defeated Plainfield East, St. Charles East, and East Aurora.
"It was a good experience for our guys to play against that type of pressure," said Heidkamp. "Proviso East is a storied program, and those kids were coming at us with everything they had.
"I thought we played pretty well overall."
Momon paced the Pirates with 15 points.
In other tourney action, host St. Charles East evened its record at 2-2 with a 72-71 overtime victory over Plainfield East.