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Benet's Sean O'Mara (left) puts up a shot over Naperville Central's Rob Suntken during their game Saturday evening at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. Benet won 46-35. | Michael R. Schmidt ~ For Sun-Times Media MICHAEL R. SCHMIDT
Last Saturday night, the past, present and future for Benet came together.
Participating in the National Guard High School Hoops Showdown allowed the Redwings to get a reminder of where it’s been and where it’s going.
Watching a pair of East Suburban Catholic Conference foes in Notre Dame and St. Viator battle in the first of the three-game shootout, Benet got a peek at what awaits it Saturday at Batavia’s Night of Hoops when West Aurora locked horns with St. Joseph.
In between, the Redwings were busy avenging a 57-54 overtime defeat to Naperville Central on Nov. 23. Leading the entire way and by as many as 19 points early in the fourth quarter, the Redwings posted a 46-35 win over the Redhawks on Saturday to claim their seventh straight win and 12th win in their last 13 games.
What can sixth-ranked Benet (19-3) do for an encore? Try padding its ESCC lead by beating No. 23 St. Viator team at home Friday night and then deal with No. 15 and DuPage Valley co-leader West Aurora less than 24 hours later.
“You know what, it’s nuts,” Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said last Saturday night of Benet’s competition this week. “I mean, Viator’s a very good team. They had a tough go because they had a big win last (Friday) night (against Marian Catholic) and then they have to come back and play a very good team like Notre Dame.
“We got them coming up (Friday night) and then we’ve got to play West Aurora. Our focus this week is going to, honestly, be on St. Viator because it’s a conference game.
“The West Aurora game’s a huge game, but it’s a game that we’ll worry about on Saturday because we have to win on Friday. That’s really where the priorities lie.”
Topping Benet’s to-do list is maintaining its lead in the ESCC, which sits at a game ahead in the loss column over Notre Dame, courtesy of their 4-0 start halfway through the conference slate. The Redwings are seeking a third ESCC crown in the last four years.
The two DVC teams, Naperville Central and West Aurora, both reside in the Class 4A Bolingbrook Sectional.
“Sure. That’s definitely a consideration,” Heidkamp said of the sectional implications with playing both Naperville Central and West Aurora. “I think, right now, our No. 1 goal is to compete in our conference. Obviously, our conference is excellent this year. Our primary goal is to try to finish as high as we can in our conference. The second goal would be the seeding for the state tournament. Now those go hand-in-hand. Obviously, the better we do in conference, the more that it will help us.”
St. Viator is off to a 14-5 start overall with a 4-2 mark in the ESCC after losing to Notre Dame last Saturday.
Given the fact it has already played tough opponents including York, Curie, Proviso East, Homewood-Flossmoor, St. Ignatius, Notre Dame, Marian Catholic and Naperville Central twice, this weekend isn’t anything Benet hasn’t already seen.
“I know West Aurora pretty well,” said Benet center Sean O’Mara. “I know two kids on each team — (St. Viator junior) Ore (Arogundade) and (West Aurora junior) Jontrell (Walker) and I’ve played with them both through AAU and they’re both really good players.
“It’s gonna be some tough matchups in both games and I think it’s gonna be two very important games — one very important game for conference and one very important game for our sectional, too.”
Two years ago, Benet defeated Glenbard East 75-51 at the Sears Centre during the National Guard High School Hoops Showdown.
Four-year varsity player Pat McInerney three-year varsity member O’Mara lead the way in experience for Benet, but the biggest key is bringing along everyone on the team as Benet is likely to find itself on more big-time stages like last Saturday.
“It brings back pretty good memories from beating Glenbard East two years ago. It’s obviously an awesome environment, playing on a big stage in a huge arena,” McInerney said. “You don’t really get that opportunity many times in high school. I mean, you just gotta cherish the moment and it’s pretty fun to play out there.”