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Goss: Lemont, Providence and the postseason

01/24/2013, 6:24pm CST
By Dick Goss dgoss@stmedianetwork.com

Lemont has been bumped to Class 4A in basketball, and the Indians have been assigned to the rugged Bolingbrook Sectional, where the Raiders, West Aurora, Neuqua Valley and Benet will be among the many tough entries.

Lemont's head coach, Rick Runaas makes a point with a ref during their game at Providence Catholic in New Lenox, IL on Tuesday January 22, 2013. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

Before Lemont’s 70-57 victory at Providence earlier in the week, Indians coach Rick Runaas discussed the IHSA classification of teams this school year.

“We’re 4A in basketball and 3A in baseball, and Providence is 3A in basketball and 4A in baseball,” Runaas said. “I know it also has to do with whether you have had success recently in a given sport, but that still doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.”

Lemont is assigned to the 4A Bolingbrook Sectional, where Neuqua Valley, West Aurora, Benet, Oswego and Bolingbrook are just some of the potential difficult opponents. In fact, despite their 18-2 record, the Indians still must wonder, as newcomers to 4A, how they will be viewed when the coaches’ online seeding is done Feb. 7.

Every regional within a sectional will get one of the 1-4 seeds and one of the 5-8 seeds. If Lemont does not get a 1-4 seed, which as noted would be quite an accomplishment in this sectional, the Indians certainly would deserve, and perhaps benefit from, a 5-8 seed.

The Lemont team I saw at Providence can play with anyone. The Indians hit the boards, established an early lead and never let up. On the offensive end, they moved the ball well, setting up teammates for open looks from every angle on the floor.

Senior point guard Juozas Balciunas, who went against Providence senior Kevin Kozan for the third time in the past two seasons, put on a show befitting the caliber of player he is. Runaas noted that forward Martynas Einikis, who transferred from Oak Lawn for his senior season, “made a big difference. He is getting fully integrated into what we do.”

If Balciunas, Einikis and their teammates function at that same level the rest of the way, they have a chance to challenge even in such a loaded sectional.

Providence’s record, meanwhile, is 10-10. The Celtics have dropped four straight. But don’t let that fool you.

Before the game, coach Tim Trendel mentioned the rugged portion of the schedule the Celtics have been traversing. They have played several quality 4A opponents in rapid succession.

In the postseason, the Celtics are in the 3A regional at Lincoln-Way West, where they should be the favorite. Then it’s on to the Rich South Sectional, where they will have a shot against any opponent that comes their way.

The supersectional is at Joliet Central. Highly regarded Morgan Park is expected to be there. While beating the Mustangs would be a tall order, wouldn’t it be nice to see the Celtics get that opportunity?

“The end of February and beginning of March, that’s the reason we play a good schedule,” Trendel said afterward. “Now we have to stop the bleeding beginning Friday night at (St. Francis) de Sales and get pointed in the right direction.”

By the way, if you enjoy peaking into the future, watch out for the Celtics in a year or two. The sophomores have lost once all season — they certainly were impressive in their win over Lemont — and that’s without 6-foot-5 sophomore Miles Boykin, a mainstay on the varsity. Another sophomore, 6-5 post player Nate Vejvoda, also is on the varsity and sees a good amount of playing time.

Joliet Catholic is among the teams that will join Providence in the 3A regional at Lincoln-Way West. A week before Lemont’s visit to Providence, I went to Lemont to see the Indians take on Joliet Catholic (4-18). Nobody is expecting many victories from the Hilltoppers, or much postseason success, but that’s OK.

Forget the record, coach Joe Gura is as upbeat as ever.

“We’re starting to get quality experience,” Gura said. “We’re not pleased with losing this game or any game, but I tell the kids, ‘Don’t look at the opponent or the scoreboard, that’s not what matters.’

“It’s every possession in every game and every practice, that’s what is important. We want to value every possession. This is so much fun. I’m having the time of my life because this program has a purpose.”

A program with a purpose? That brings us to Joliet Central, which I covered in a double-overtime loss Monday to Mount Carmel in the MLK Day of Hoops.

Who would have thunk it? The Friday night SouthWest Suburban Blue games will conclude the first half of the conference schedule, and the Steelmen (10-8) will visit Homewood-Flossmoor with the two teams sharing the league lead at 5-1.

The conference heavyweights generally are viewed as Joliet West and Bolingbrook, in addition to H-F. But there are the upstart Steelmen, who won at Bolingbrook last week, with a chance to finish the first round alone atop the standings. Coach Jeff Corcoran has the program on a positive path.

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