Knights crowned MSL East champions


basketball boys and girls 287By Paul Evers, staff writer
Seniors Luke Wrede, Liam Benson, Alec Busiel, Micah Stewart and Scott Baackes shared the court for one last time in Jean Walker Field House on Friday night. They did it in front of a standing bench and a standing ovation from The U.
Surprisingly, the biggest cheers didn’t shower down for those players on a very special senior night. The loudest cheer was at the final buzzer when the Knights were officially crowned MSL East champions thanks to a 57-46 win over Buffalo Grove.
Junior Frankie Mack was definitely excited to accomplish a long-standing goal and dream of his.
“Feels great [to win the MSL East]. I’ve been working for this for so long,” Mack said. “It’s been my dream ever since I was a kid, looking up at other kids win this. Honestly, it’s one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever felt.
“We used last year as a huge motivator. We were expected to win it last year, and the season didn’t go the way we wanted it to. We used that to work hard over the summer and do what we did tonight and win the East.”
The Knights (14-9, 8-2 in the East) gave another impressive performance, beating the Buffalo Grove Bison (10-14, 3-7 in the East) for the third time this season. Mack led the Knights with 16 points while junior Matt Szuba had a strong performance with a double-double, collecting 10 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists.
The Bison had a strong performance from deep, shooting 6 of 8 in the first half and ending up shooting 63 percent (7 of 11).
“They like to shoot the ball. They’re good shooters. I credit them a lot,” Mack said. “We tried our best to run them off the line a little bit, but other than that, they’re just good shooters.”
Coach John Camardella was quick to point out two of the Bison’s more prolific shooters.
Colin Calcagno led the Bisons with 12 points while shooting 4 of 7 (57 percent) from behind the three point line. Jack Vaselany scored 8 points and shot 2 of 4 (50 percent) from behind the arc.
“Calcagno and Vaselany are just cold-blooded. … They go and hit from some of the most difficult, high-risk shots, and they shoot a high percentage,” Camardella said. “It makes it very difficult to gear your defense, who’s used to defending a certain way, and then they got to defend guards like that.”
Both teams came out blazing, trading baskets on the way to 13-12 Bison lead with 3:11 left in the first quarter. Sophomore David Swedura (6 points) hit a layup to give the Knights a 14-13 lead late in the first.
The Knights continued to build a lead and were in control until the Bison put together a 11-5 run in the third quarter to close the game to 40-35. Camardella was impressed with his team’s demeanor even through the furious push by Buffalo Grove.
“Give our guys credit. They never panicked,” Camardella said. “I thought Matt Szuba had just a couple of massive baskets. … He’s been doing that all year, and he steadied us, hit a couple of big threes, hit a mid-range jumper. It was just great to see out of him.”
Szuba knew that the Bison would be coming, and he knew his team was ready for that late push.
“We weren’t worried at all,” Szuba said. “Every team is going to have its own punch and we just come right back and give them our own.”
Mack also thought his teammates responded to the Bison’s challenge in an effective and calm manner.
“We weren’t too worried. We weathered runs this year very well,” Mack said. “When they came at us we went after them, and we just pushed it back on them. We started attacking a little more, drawing fouls. We had them in the bonus early in the fourth quarter which helped a lot.”
The Knights were committed to the goal of getting the seniors one last chance to play in front of the home fans.
“We were going out there. We knew what we had to do,” Mack said. “We had to win the game first obviously, but we went up 10, and we decided to push it on a little bit and get some other guys in for their last home game here at Jean Walker.”
While the Knights were happy about their MSL East title, they understood this was not the end goal.
“It’s a step into the future. Playing Wednesday night is what really matters,” Szuba said.
Camardella still sees his team accomplishing a lot more, and he can’t wait to lead his team to future success.
“We’re not done yet. [A] division title is great,” Camardella said. “We talk about it. It’s not the end-all be-all. It’s just the first championship you can win.
“There’s nothing like playing on Wednesday night in the second to last week of February. It’s a special thing, and I’m so excited I get to go in there with another group of guys.”
Looking ahead to the matchup against MSL West champion Conant, Camardella sees a couple of challenges his team will face.
“It’s always tough to go on the road, and Conant we played them once already, but it’s really just a matter of us focusing and doing what we do,” Camardella said. “We’ve got to be prepared for their zone, but yeah this is why you play. We get to play in an MSL final.”
Even with the tough road ahead, Camardella does not see his team backing down.
“We’re ready to go, 32 minutes — man let’s play,” Camardella said.