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Naperville Central shines at early-season tournament

11/27/2012, 7:37pm CST
By Blake Baumgartner

Naperville Central is eager to build on its 3-1 start and Hoops for Healing Tournament title moving into conference play against foes like Glenbard East and West Aurora.

Benet Academy's Sean O'Mara get's his shot over Naperville Central's Nick Czarnowkski on Friday, November 23, 2012 at Oswego High School in Oswego IL. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media

Given the road-heavy schedule it played at times last season, Naperville Central’s vast returning cast received numerous lessons in resiliency throughout a 15-12 campaign

Four games into their new season, the Redhawks have already started to exhibit some of the resilience gained through some hard-luck times in 2011-12.

Look no further than what Naperville Central accomplished Friday night in the 2012 Hoops For Healing Tournament title game against Benet.

Overcoming seven-point deficits at both halftime and at the end of the third quarter and a quick five-point overtime deficit, the Redhawks pulled out a 57-54 victory over Benet.

Senior guard Nick Lopez’s game-winning three-pointer as time expired in overtime capped off a victory that saw Naperville Central receive timely contributions from senior Mike Blaszczyk and juniors Nick Czarnowski, Austin Pauga and Ryan Antony.

Scoring just seven points Friday while going up against Benet’s junior big man, Sean O’Mara, Czarnowski’s presence alone just makes a world of difference for the Redhawks. “They did it all last year,” Naperville Central coach Pete Kramer said of his young team’s ability to respond. “I think a big factor is having Czar healthy and when Czar’s not scoring, he just does things that go unnoticeable. But we just play with a lot more confidence when we have him in there or (junior Pat) Maloney, just because we’ve got some more size.”

But it’s Blaszczyk that probably had most to do with the fact Naperville Central is off to its second straight 3-1 start coming out of the Hoops For Healing Tournament.

The 6-foot-3 Blaszczyk scored a game-high 24 points in the Redhawks’ 80-66, season-opening win over host Oswego on Nov. 19, a victory that looks a lot better given the Panthers’ 68-59 upset of highly touted Proviso East two days later, and followed that up by tallying a team-high 22 points against the Redwings.

“He’s a senior. He’s expected to do what he did,” Kramer said of Blaszczyk, who scored 10 of his 22 points against Benet in the fourth quarter. “He struggled in the first half and we talked at halftime and just told him to relax and keep looking to score. We kind of set him up at different times, too. Had that chance to make some big plays and he made them. Our team is pretty unselfish and they all have strengths and weaknesses, but they all contribute in some ways.”

Benet and Naperville Central will cross paths again on Jan. 26 at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates during the National Guard High School Hoops Showdown.

Kramer believes Friday’s meeting with the Redwings is a good thing.

“I’m glad, in a way, we played them just because now we know what they’re about. We know what they have,” he said. “I think (Benet senior forward Pat) McInerney’s a nice player, but I didn’t realize he was the player he is. So I think it was kind of nice to have played them. You see what O’Mara does, what he’s made of.

“They got a supporting cast. They got some kids who can shoot and so we had to change things a little bit because they were hitting shots and we had to defend them on the perimeter more. So it was a good experience for our kids.”

With victories over Oswego, Metea Valley and Benet and an up-close look at Proviso East all now in its back pocket, the task doesn’t get any easier for Naperville Central.

Playing just three games in the next two weeks, with two of them coming against DuPage Valley Conference powers Glenbard East and West Aurora, Kramer knows his team can’t let up and needs to keep the intensity.

“We looked at our schedule and we just knew, ‘Hey, we gotta be ready because we’re gonna dive into five or six games there that are huge for us,’” he said. “We’ve just played four really good teams. Now we go into conference play — we’re playing the two best conference teams that we’ll see all year right away. Glenbard East is over there (in Lombard) and West Aurora is at home, so we have to continue to just keep working, stay consistent.”

In shades of his game-winning three-pointer at the horn against Benet last Friday, Lopez sparked the Redhawks to a 58-54 overtime victory over Glenbard East in Lombard last Jan. 27.

With Naperville Central trailing Glenbard East by five points late in the fourth, Lopez eventually sent the game into overtime with a three-pointer as time expired before coming up big in the overtime with a key steal and two free throws.

Before they can start worrying about how to go about avenging a 75-40 home loss to West Aurora last Jan. 31 when they welcome the Blackhawks to town on Dec. 7, the Redhawks will be looking on Friday to take a second straight game in Lombard for the first time since current Northwestern senior forward Drew Crawford led the way to a pair of road wins over the Rams in his last two varsity seasons.

“It’ll be interesting,” Kramer said of the Glenbard East matchup.

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