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When the season began, Thornton, Andrew and Stagg were the favorites to claim the SouthWest Suburban Red title.
Thornton has lived up to the preseason hype, sitting atop the division at 9-2.
Running neck and neck with the Wildcats in first place, however, isn’t Andrew or Stagg, but Lincoln-Way North.
The Phoenix, at 17-7 overall and 9-2 in conference, has been a pleasant surprise.
“Things are going well,” North coach John Terry said. “We had a great offseason and the kids worked hard. We started four or five juniors last year, so I expected a good year.”
As good as North has played, Terry is waiting for a streak when all five starters — Tre Lewis, Daryle Morgan, Cody Murphy, Ryan Pellack and Denton Wallace — are hitting on all cylinders.
On most nights, it’s been hit and miss.
“I tell my kids all the time, ‘Imagine how good we’re going to be when we all play well at one time,’ ” Terry said. “If we can get everybody going on all cylinders, I just can’t wait for that.”
A good time for that to happen would be during the final three conference games — especially Tuesday, when the Phoenix travels to Thornton in what could be a showdown for first place.
Before that, however, North must defeat Lincoln-Way West on Friday.
“Every game is going to be intense,” Terry said. “We’re going to need to play well.”
Morgan has been the Phoenix’s most consistent performer. He leads the team in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks.
Lewis has come on strong of late, notching the game-winning basket Feb. 5 against Thornridge.
Wallace, along with Pellack, has been a force beyond the arc. Denton’s three-quarter-court buzzer-beater gave North a stunning 66-63 win Jan. 25 over Stagg.
What the Phoenix has lacked is a consistent inside presence. That’s where Murphy, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound senior, can be a factor.
“Cody needs to be aggressive,” Terry said. “He has to be a post presence for us. He’ll be a two or three in college, but we need him to attack the basket, which he has done. Just not consistently.”