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Notre Dame (3) Jake Maestranzi brings the ball up in first half action.Notre Dame plays St. Patrick in a boys varsity basketball game on Friday Night|~Judy Fidkowski
Notre Dame point guard Jake Maestranzi said he had played in front of some big crowds. But the senior never had experienced a frenzied atmosphere like the one at St. Patrick.
However, the 5-foot-9 point guard was not fazed, scoring 10 fourth-quarter points Friday, including four clutch free throws, in the Dons’ 54-51 comeback victory. Maestranzi finished with 12 points, picked up four steals and turned the ball over just once as Notre Dame improved to 16-2 overall and 3-1 in the ESCC.
“When I was at South Elgin, we played Bartlett and it was a pretty big rivalry,” said Maestranzi, who transferred to Notre Dame this school year. “We played them for the regional championship a couple years ago, and it was a pretty big crowd. But not close to this.”
As is customary when Notre Dame visits St. Patrick, the small gym on Chicago’s Northwest side was packed 45 minutes before tipoff, and the St. Patrick student section, located inches from the sideline, was raucous throughout.
The contest had a big-game feel as two ESCC rivals loaded with talent battled it out in front of the Comcast television cameras.
“I said to Jake (the day before the game), ‘You’re going to be in an atmosphere you’ve probably never been in before, but that’s why you came here,’ ” Notre Dame coach Tom Les said. “He came here to play in big-time games.”
Maestranzi spent the entire game bringing the ball up the court for the Dons, and did so almost flawlessly despite constant pressure by St. Patrick 6-3 guard Royale Ewing.
“(Ewing) is a great player, very athletic and tough to get by, and physical,” said Maestranzi, who previously lived in Bartlett and now resides in Des Plaines. “But I’m used to that. I’ve played in AAU and been in big games against physical, athletic players. I was ready.”
Maestranzi also was ready to contribute on the offensive end in the fourth quarter. His two 3-pointers, the first a minute into the frame and the second with a minute left in the game, were the bookends to a 14-3 run that saw the Dons turn a 40-36 deficit into a 50-43 advantage.
The ball was in Maestranzi’s hands in the final minute, and the 93 percent free-throw shooter went to the line five times, hitting four of them.
“It was Jake’s game to win or lose in the final minute and a half, two minutes,” Les said. “He’s a great 3-point shooter. He’s done that several times over the course of the season, in close games, make big shots at the end. He’s also made all of his free throws at the end. He kind of surprised me when he missed one tonight.”
Teammate Donte “Scooter” Stephenson, who is also less than 6 feet tall, said Maestranzi has been a major addition to the Dons this season.
“He pushes me at practice,” said Stephenson, who had a team-high 14 points against St. Patrick. “He’s a great player. Don’t let his size fool you, he’s a great point guard, great shooter. He can take the pressure and he doesn’t let anything faze him.”~.