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Plainfield Central's Duvaun Goodlow picks up an Oswego rebound at Plainfield Central High School in Plainfield, Ill., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. | Corey R. Minkanic~For Sun-Times Media ORG XMIT: .
It was a long time coming, but once they reached the threshold, five senior starters on Oswego’s basketball team made quick work of reaching their goal.
The visiting Panthers closed the first quarter Tuesday at Plainfield Central with one of their patented runs — 13 straight points — boosting an 11-9 lead to 24-9 after eight minutes. From there, they cruised to an 80-49 rout of the Wildcats to clinch the program’s first conference title since 1998.
“It guarantees us a share, but this is something we want to be selfish with,” said Oswego coach Kevin Schnable, who made sure his players knew what was on the line before the game.
The Panthers, 23-2 overall and 11-0 in the Southwest Prairie Conference, entered the game with a three-game lead over runner-up Plainfield North with four games remaining. One win in their final three will secure the crown outright.
It’s been a long time coming for Schnable, whose team was third in the league last season after five straight runner-up finishes.
“It got to the point where, when you couple the conference finishes with our (Class 3A) state runner-up finish in 2009, I’ve got best friends who call me, ‘Mr. Second Place,’ ” Schnable said. “Leave it to this group of guys to bring our program to the top.”
The school’s all-time leading scorer, Elliott McGaughy, led the way with a game-high 19 points. His senior backcourt mate, Miles Simelton, scored 14, while senior forward Jack Kwiatkowski had 11 and sophomore Zach West came off the bench to add 11.
“I’m glad we won the game, glad we won the league but we did so down there at the defensive end. That’s how it started,” Schnable said.
The Panthers forced 22 Wildcats turnovers through three periods, with the five starters accounting for 14 steals. McGaughy had four, Jamaal Richardson, Simelton and Darion Reddick three each and Kwiatkowski one.
“Our defense, that’s what wins games,” McGaughy said. “Coach stresses if we play defense, our offense will follow.”
Central (7-16, 2-9) got 16 points from junior center Logan Velasquez, 12 from senior guard Mitch Young and 11 from senior guard Curtis Harrington.
“We didn’t control the things we could control, turnovers, rebounds and some defensive lapses,” Central coach Steve Lamberti said. “That’s kind of what we need to pride ourselves on, taking control of things we can control.”
His team managed to cut the 42-18 halftime deficit to 11 (50-39) on Young’s three-point play with 3:39 remaining in the third, but the Panthers responded with three straight three-pointers — one each from Simelton, Danny Mangers and West — to start a 15-0 run that closed the quarter and gave the visitors a 65-39 advantage.
“We got it close to 10 but couldn’t get any closer. They made shots and you’re not gonna win games allowing runs like that,” Lamberti said. “They’ve got a lot of parts.”