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In a game in which open shots were hard to come by, no player found himself as bottled up as Neuqua Valley center Pat Kenny.
The 6-4 senior was able to muster only five attempts through the first three quarters of Saturday’s Upstate Eight Valley contest with Lake Park as both teams defended tenaciously.
But Kenny erupted in the fourth quarter and helped the host Wildcats remain unbeaten with a 48-38 victory in Naperville.
Neuqua Valley (8-0, 4-0) was clinging to a 35-33 lead at the start of the fourth quarter when Kenny scored six of his 10 points during an opening 8-0 run that gave his side some much-needed breathing room.
“He struggled for three quarters and he got a couple of easy ones in the fourth,” Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton said. “He earned every point tonight. They double-teamed from the back side all night and did a great job.
“Defensively they were fantastic on Pat. That’s the best job anyone’s done all year.”
Ultimately, the Lancers’ efforts went for naught as Kenny and guard Jabari Sandifer wound up as Neuqua’s two leading scorers, as they have done much of the season. Sandifer tallied 10 of his game-high 14 points in the second half and wound up with seven rebounds, three steals and a pair of assists on Kenny inside hoops, the last of which gave the Wildcats a 43-33 cushion with 4:35 remaining.
“I think I just really settled down,” Kenny said. “I think I was trying to force it a little bit too much at the beginning of the game. I started kicking out a little more and everyone started playing better at the end of the game.”
Carlos Cortez answered Kenny’s last bucket with a three-pointer to draw Lake Park (5-4, 2-2) within 43-36, but the Lancers could not get any closer than that against the Wildcats’ stifling defense, which held a conference opponent to 38 points for the second straight night.
“We’re confident in our defense,” Kenny said. “We knew that would keep us in it, so we didn’t get too worried because we knew that our defense was playing hard and it would keep us in the game at least until we started getting going on offense.”
Trevor Davis added nine points and six rebounds for Neuqua, while Connor Raridon, Elijah Robertson and Brad Mikulecky each scored four points. Jeremy Caboor and Sean Moore led Lake Park with 10 points apiece. Cortez and Jake Ktsanes each tallied seven points.