Willowbrook beats Naperville North before losing to the Redwings; Warriors finish season with a 26-6 record
By Chris Fox LOMBARDIAN-VILLA PARK REVIEW STAFF REPORTER
The Willowbrook boys basketball team’s season ended with Friday’s 67-40 loss to Benet Academy in the championship game of the IHSA Class 4A Glenbard East Sectional in Lombard. The Warriors, who trailed Benet 30-26 at halftime, couldn’t keep up with the Redwings in the second half. Benet increased its lead to 46-36 by the end of the third quarter. The Warriors managed only four points in the fourth period. Benet improved to 27-4 and advanced to this week’s super-sectional game against Elgin-Larkin at Northern Illinois University. Willowbrook, which won its first regional title in 14 years on March 2, advanced to the sectional final by beating Naperville North 47-43 in Lombard on March 6. The Warriors finished their special season with an overall record of 26-6. This season’s team set a new program record for victories in a season. Last season’s Warriors established a new record by winning 24 games during the 2016- 17 campaign. Willowbrook trailed Naperville North—the sectional’s No. 1 seeded team—20-12 at halftime. The Warriors rallied in the third quarter to grab a 30-27 edge with eight minutes to play. “The kids have been fighting all year,” said Willowbrook coach Chris Perkins after the win over Naperville North. “We’ve been down before. Our outside shots started falling, and then it’s like an avalanche.” Willowbrook, which was seeded fifth in the sectional, couldn’t duplicate its second-half success against Benet, the sectional’s No. 2 seed. The atmosphere was electric during both of the Warriors’ sectional games in Lombard. The Willowbrook student body came out in full force for each game to support its team. The Glenbard East gymnasium was packed to capacity for Friday’s sectional final; some late-arriving fans weren’t allowed in because there were no seats available. Benet brought its own raucous student section for Friday’s battle. Willowbrook sophomore Everett Stubblefield, who was called up to the varsity team in January, helped to spark his team’s second-half rally against Naperville North. Stubblefield did not score in the first half, but he poured in 12 points, including three 3-point shots, during the third quarter. He closed out the period by draining a long 3-pointer to give the Warriors a 30-27 advantage. “I saw the clock going down,” said Stubblefield of his shot at the end of the third quarter. “I felt the crowd’s energy. I already hit two threes before that.” “He came in, got hot and gave us a boost,” said Perkins of Stubblefield. “The rest of the guys fed off of that energy, and our crowd got into it and we were able to build momentum.” “I was a little bit nervous,” said Stubblefield after the win over the Huskies. “But once I got in the mood of the game, I started to calm down and it started coming to me.” Stubblefield and senior Ethan Schuemer both scored 16 points in the Warriors’ win over Naperville North, which finished its season with a 26-3 record. Schuemer scored four baskets during the final quarter. His steal and layup gave the Warriors a 38-31 lead with about four minutes to play. “At halftime we kind of regrouped,” said Schuemer after the sectional semifinal. “We made sure we came out with much more energy and much more intensity in the second half. It was crazy. Our fans were huge tonight. It was a lot of fun.” An offensive rebound and basket by senior Matt Myers pushed Willowbrook’s lead to 44-39 with a little more than one minute to play. The Huskies scored a basket to cut the Warriors’ advantage to 45-43 with 9.8 seconds to play. Following a time out, Myers passed to Schuemer, who sent the ball to an open Stubblefield, who drove for a victory-sealing layup with a few seconds remaining. Benet held a 15-9 lead over Willowbrook after one quarter of Friday’s sectional final. The Redwings built a 21-9 lead early in the second quarter, but Willowbrook sliced the lead to as low as two points later in the period. Junior Scott Tumilty sank a pair of 3-point shots for the Warriors during their second-quarter surge. Schuemer’s dunk cut the Redwings’ lead to 26-22. Myers then added a basket to trim Benet’s lead to 26-24. Schuemer added one more basket in the period to cut Benet’s lead to 28-26. The Redwings, who built their lead to 46-36 by the end of the third quarter, padded their lead by opening the fourth quarter with a 10-1 run to grab a 56-37 advantage with five minutes to play. The Warriors’ starters headed to the bench with about three minutes remaining. Schuemer, who spent three seasons on the varsity, scored 15 points in his final game as a Warrior. Tumilty added six points with his two 3-point shots. Junior Matas Masys scored five points by making all five of his free-throw attempts. Senior Sikander Zafar also scored five points, while Myers provided four points. Benet made seven of 16 shots from 3-point range. Willowbrook connected on just three of 19 attempts from beyond the 3-point line. “You’ve got to give credit to them,” said Perkins after the season- ending loss to the Redwings. “They’re really good. They were prepared for what we were doing. We fought and fought. We didn’t quit, regardless of the score. I told our guys not to hang their heads. I’m proud of how they continued to improve and get better.” Perkins noted that the team’s regular starting five this season—Schuemer, Myers, Zafar, senior Neil Paxton and Masys have all spent the last three seasons on the varsity. Masys will return next year for his senior season. “I couldn’t be prouder of this group of seniors,” said Perkins.