The theme was Turn Back the Clocks for Saturday’s annual Alumni Night doubleheader basketball games, which featured the girls varsity team against North Chicago at 5:30, and the boys varsity squad vs. North Suburban Conference Lake Division uber-rivals Stevenson at 7.
In keeping with the night’s theme, the boys’ 57-55 squeaker victory over the hard-charging Patriots was reminiscent of the team’s winning ways in years past. The difference is that the team’s play is a reflection of second-year coach Billy Pitcher.
On a night when a doffing of the cap was given to past stars in the Lake Zurich b-ball pantheon during a brief halftime ceremony, the most noteworthy went to former coach John Zarr. He guided the team a total of 31 years — 15 as an assistant and 16 as a head coach — before stepping down after the 2009-10 season.
Zarr set a school record when the Bears rang up 27 wins in the 2005-06 season, four years before he decided to step down. When Billy Pitcher took over as coach last year, he knew that he needed to remake the team in a way that worked for him and how he believed they should perform.
After a tough season a year ago, when finished 8-20 (including the playoffs), coach Pitcher has his team on a solid winning track.
Beating the stalwart Stevenson squad (10-4, 3-2 NSC Lake) is further proof of the Bears’ progress, and sweet vindication after a difficult 52-46 road loss to the Patriots almost exactly a year ago. The Bears kept close throughout before Stevenson closed out the final seconds with five unanswered points in that game.
“That was a close game,” recalled Pitcher. “I remember that game from last year. We played well but couldn’t finish it out.”
That’s another major distinction between this year’s model compared to last year: The Bears are doing a much better job of playing complete games, and as a result, close games that they were losing a year ago they’re putting in the “win” column this year.
“That’s been a huge difference between last year and this year,” said Pitcher. “We got all of the close losses last year and this year we’re getting all of the close wins.”
After starting the game slowly and falling behind 7-3, Lake Zurich rattled off 11 consecutive points, including seven straight points by scoring star Mirko Grcic. After Ryan Roach made a pair of free throws, Grcic connected on a jumper near the free throw paint, went 2-for-2 from the line after getting fouled during a failed alley-oop dunk, and nailed a 3-pointer from practically midcourt range. Roach completed the 11-0 run by going coast-to-coast with a layup after pulling down a defensive rebound.
Lake Zurich led 15-10 after the first quarter and 31-26 at the half, far from an overwhelming lead against a team as resilient as the Patriots. Stevenson narrowed the Bears’ lead to 31-29 when senior Michael Fleming sank a 3-pointer from the far right side to open the third quarter. But Grcic, who finished with a game-high 16 points, responded with a layup and then a turnaround jumper for a 35-29 Bears advantage.
Patriots senior Colby Cashaw scored a layup after a smooth feed by freshman standout Jalen Brunson, shrinking Lake Zurich’s lead to 46-42 at the end of the third quarter.
Stevenson was able to close the gap midway through the fourth quarter. After Lake Zurich’s John Repplinger went 1-for-2 from the line, Brunson, who paced the Patriots with 14 points, scored on a jumper off the right side, knotting the score at 51.
Although Stevenson tied the score down the final stretch of the quarter several times, the Bears demonstrated the difference between this year’s squad and last year’s by never relinquishing the lead.
The drama heightened after Patriots sophomore Matt Morrissey tied the score at 55-55, the third time in the final three minutes of the contest that Stevenson pulled even with Lake Zurich. After Cashaw went 0-for-1 from the line with 1:03 remaining, the Bears got the ball back and proceeded to drain the clock.
“I knew we wanted to be the ones to take the final shot of the game, and that we didn’t want to leave any time on the clock for them to come back,” Pitcher said of this year’s game against the Patriots. “And I knew that Grcic was who would take the last shot.”
Grcic ended up getting fouled. With 0:05 remaining on the clock he sank both free throws. Brunson tried furtively to get the ball to within shooting range, but didn’t even make it to midcourt before getting tangled up with the Bears’ Doug Murphy as time expired.
“I knew I had to make those free throws,” said Grcic. “Nothing was going to stop me, especially in front of the home crowd. Beating a team like Stevenson, one of the top teams in the conference, is a huge confidence-builder. It makes us feel that we can compete with anyone in the conference.”
Bears Pause: Lake Zurich’s Mike Travlos, a freshman who was called up prior to the Pekin holiday tourney due to a player injury, scored 11 points, second best on the team, along with Ryan Roach. Although he claimed to be nervous going into the contest, he played like a seasoned veteran, especially on offense. “He played very well for us tonight,” said Pitcher. Doug Murphy played his typically solid defense and scored 8 points. John Repplinger also performed well for the Bears, coming off the bench to score 7 points.
Next Up: Lake Zurich travels to Lake Forest Jan. 13 to take on the conference rival Scouts.
The girls team was playing in their second contest Saturday since their participation in the Loyola Holiday Tournament, where they went 2-3.
In their debut game in the tourney on Dec. 21, the Bears lost 49-40 to Loyola, a top 20 team. Stephanie Schmid led Lake Zurich with 12 points, Cathryne Spear had 9 points and seven rebounds, Katherine Anderson had 8 points and six rebounds, and Dori Darras had 9 points and five assists. Tied going into the final quarter, Loyola outscored the Bears 18-9 to clinch the victory.
On Dec. 22, Lake Zurich lost to Trinity, a top five team, 63-37. It was a route from the get-go, as Lake Zurich was down 40-13 at the half. They did play significantly better in the second half, outscoring Trinity 24-23. Stephanie Schmid led the Bears with 19 points.
Lake Zurich got their first win of the tournament the next day, when they defeated St. Francis 62-51. After being down 16-13, the Bears dominated the balance of the game. Spear led her team with 12 points and seven rebounds, Anderson had 11 points and three assists, Darras had 10 points and seven assists, and Schmid had 10 points.
On Dec. 27, Lake Zurich defeated Barrington 54-38 while playing in the fifth-place pool. Tied at 15-all at the half, the Bears controlled the tempo of the second half. The Broncos opted to play zone, leaving Anderson and Schmid open to take repeated shots. Schmid finished with a team-best 25 points, and Anderson chipped in with 10 points and four assists.
In the final game of the tourney, Lake Zurich lost to Stevenson, 49-46. After four minutes into the game, the Patriots had jumped to a 10-0 lead. At that point, coach Chris Bennett called a timeout, and his team regrouped and outscored Stevenson 38-14 up through the final two minutes of the third quarter, giving the Bears a 38-24 lead.
The Patriots scored six unanswered points to cut Lake Zurich’s lead to 38-30 at the end of the third, and then continued to chip away. After Stevenson switched to man-to-man coverage in the fourth quarter, they took the lead with two minutes remaining. Lake Zurich didn’t help themselves, committing seven turnovers down the stretch.
After Spear made a pair of free throws that allowed the Bears to retake the lead with 1:12 remaining, Stevenson scored on a fast break with 30 seconds left. The Bears missed their last two shots, giving the Patriots the win. Dori Darras led the Bears with 12 points, and had five rebounds and four assists. Maisie Cox scored 10 points and had six assists, and Cathryne Spear had 9 points and eight rebounds.
The Bears followed their tournament play with a 56-50 win over Lake Forest on Jan. 5. Down 44-37 at the end of the third quarter, Lake Zurich outscored the Scouts 19-6 in the fourth to seal the win. Maisie Cox and Cathryne Spear executed aggressive defense down the stretch, as each had three steals that led to points. Stephanie Schmid was the top scorer with 22 points; Cox had 11.
On Saturday’s Throwback Night game, the Bears mauled North Chicago 69-38. Lake Zurich jumped out to a fast lead and never looked back, leading 17-2 after the first quarter of play. At one point in the second quarter, the Bears led 25-2. Cathryne Spear paced Lake Zurich with 17 points. Katherine Anderson added 14 points, including two 3-pointers, and Stephanie Schmid added 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.
The Bears led 28-7 at the half and 44-24 after three quarters.
Bears Pause: “Our goal for the middle part of the season is to be prepared for the second half of the conference season, and I am certain we are ready to go,” said coach Bennett. “We have some huge games this week. By the end of the week we’ll know if we have a shot at the division title." The Bears are 12-6.
Next Up: The Bears host Libertyville tonight at 7 p.m. and travel to Mundelein on Saturday for a 2:30 game.