Third in a series
The Patch Hardwood Tour examines boys high school basketball on a weekly rotational basis, focusing on teams in a 12-town region. Its intent is to celebrate and inform about prep hoops; the best high school sport in the state. The Tour will will be stopping in your town soon.
The two Patch.com teams witnessed on The Tour this past week both went down to bitter defeat, but in different fashion. The Fremd Vikings were upset for the second time in as many meetings by the Schaumburg Saxons, dating back to last year's final game of the season, while the Libertyville Wildcats nearly pulled off a big win without their top scorer.
But despite the losses, both Fremd and Libertyville offer upbeat scenarios for fans looking just down the road.
Monaghan's fond hoops memories won't include Saxons
Three-year Fremd High star Zach Monaghan is absorbing as many memories as he can in this, his final year playing hoops for the Vikings. He's been around the program since serving as the team ball boy while brothers Pat (26) and Matt (24) ran the court under the tutelage of current coach Bob Widlowski.
But it would be understandable if the youngest of that trio of Monaghans wanted to scrub his mind spotless regarding Thursday night's 48-42 Mid Suburban League, West Division, road loss to a Schaumburg Saxons team that came into the contest with a 2-5 record.
This was my first look at Fremd, now 4-3, (1-1 in conference) which was riding a four-game win streak, and I was very interested in watching a hot team operate against what appeared to be a lesser foe. Instead, I left Schaumburg thinking I had not seen the real Vikings team.
Consider the following:
South Dakota State-bound Monaghan, a rangy, 6-foot-2 guard, had a tough game offensively for Fremd, but still ended up the team's top scorer with 13 points. Usually an excellent long-range marksman, his shot betrayed him on this night, as he went 4 for 16, with nothing of any distance going down the hole.
Joe Leaf, the biggest man on the Vikings roster at 6-7, is still recovering from Tommy John surgery (elbow) and played sparingly.
Junior Garrett Peters, a guard with a penchant for scoring, is out with a broken foot until sometime in mid- to late January.
If Thursday's loss is any indication, Fremd can use all the help it can get from people who can put the ball in the hole. The Vikings shot a paltry 37 percent from the floor, which included 0 for 8 from beyond the 3-point arc and just 59 percent from the free throw line. Improvement in any one of those areas would have likely netted a victory for Fremd.
Monaghan, who has sparkled for the team in the previous six games, was understandably down following the loss to Schaumburg. The Vikings were looking for revenge of sorts against the Saxons, who last year put an abrupt, unexpected end to the most magical season in Fremd history (24-2) with a stunning upset in the regionals.
But Monaghan had nothing to hang his head about Thursday. It was easy to see why the Jackrabbits of the fledgling Division I program at South Dakota State recruited him. Even though Monaghan was dealing with a frigid shooting game, he kept his team in the game with six steals and numerous assists while manning both guard positions. On a disappointing night for him, it was still plain to see that the Vikings star was the best player on the floor. Some nights, the shots just plain don't fall.
But this is still a promising Fremd team, with good size, a quick point guard in three-year varsity player Quinton Brown and two key performers waiting in the wings.
I'm predicting that when these same two teams meet Jan. 28 at Fremd, the Vikings will put the sword to the Saxons with a stylish win.
The Vikings would lose another close one Saturday night against Downers Grove South, 61-58, to drop to 4-4 on the season.
Barth-less Wildcats still prove to be formidable foe
This must be the week for catching Patch teams at less than full strength.
When I visited the Libertyville Wildcats at home Saturday night for their North Suburban Conference, Lake Division, tilt against traditional power Zion-Benton, I was disappointed to see Libertyville's top scorer, Ryan Barth, in street clothes.
He was injured in the team's Tuesday win against Lake Zurich, and told me he expected to be out three to four weeks with badly torn ligaments in his knee.
So instead of having their No. 1 point-getter on the court, Libertyville fans had to settle for his jersey and a representative bust held by a toga-wearing young lady in the student cheering section. It was a nice gesture, but Barth was tickling the twines for 22 points per game, and an empty jersey was not going to buckle the knees of the visiting 5-2 Zee-Bees.
It turned out, however, that coach Scott Bogumil's junior-laden team is far from de-clawed, even with the absence of their top scorer. Scrapping like, well, Wildcats, Libertyville coming up just short with a 64-62 overtime loss against a taller Zion aggregation in what was easily the best game I've seen this year.
The Cats filled the Barth breach and came back from a five-point deficit late in the game to send the contest into overtime before finally falling.
It was the first conference loss for the Cats against two wins. The team is now 4-3 overall.
Although I appreciated the grit of all 11 Libertyville players who saw action, three juniors deserve special recognition here, and along with Barth, appear to be the heart and soul of the team.
Luke Mathewson, a tank of a 6-foot-5 junior, battled all night long against a pair of 6-8 opponents and held his own. A varsity mainstay as a sophomore last year, Mathewson is the blue collar inside man for this team, and along with Jeremy Birck, its tallest starter.
Junior guard Griffin Pils, at 6-4, is an excellent floor general whose 17 points and 5 assists helped keep Libertyville in the game.
And last but certainly most impressive, is 6-3 junior Ellis Matthews, the go-to guy all night long for Libertyville and the high point man in the contest with 26.
Matthews is a physical enigma on the court. The redhead's featherweight frame makes him look like more of a chess club champion than a hoops hero. But this kid has chutzpa to burn.
Seemingly every time the Wildcats needed a big basket, it was Matthews who delivered, inside and out. And with Libertyville trailing by two points with 3.2 seconds remaining in the game, a long pass from under the opposite basket was lofted in the general direction of who else ... Matthews.
Not only did the sleight-of-build guard outfight his defender to gain possession, he had the nerve and presence of mind with time winding down to take a giant step back beyond the 3-point arc to launch what could have been the game-winning basket instead of just the game-tying hoop.
Unfortunately, the shot, although right on line, hit the front of the rim.
Here's hoping Barth recovers fully and returns to give Libertyville an energy burst later this season. In the meantime, however, these junior Wildcats are learning what they can do in his absence, which could pay dividends down the line.
Top Patch Teams Witnessed thus far on Hardwood Tour
1. Crystal Lake Central Tigers (6-1)
2. Crystal Lake South Gators (4-2)
3. Buffalo Grove Bison (5-2)
4. Barrington Broncos (5-3)
5. Libertyville Wildcats (4-3)
6. Grayslake North Knights (5-1)