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Naperville Central's Nicky Lopez connects on a three-point shot over Naperville North's Jayson Winick on Friday. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media
When Naperville Central earned a hard-fought win at home over crosstown rival Naperville North last month, the relief was evident.
Getting swept by the Huskies in the two meetings in 2011-12 left a bad taste in the Redhawks’ mouths, so recording a 68-60 victory over the Huskies on Jan. 11 erased some of that tension.
Now sitting in third place in the DuPage Valley Conference with an 8-3 record, Naperville Central is hoping to finish the regular season strong with three games remaining before possibly opening up postseason play against Naperville North on Feb. 27.
“We won’t even talk about them until Saturday — just because we play Wheaton North on Friday and every game (is crucial),” Naperville Central coach Pete Kramer said after his team posted an 85-63 victory over Glenbard North last Friday. “We just concentrate on the next game, one game at a time. But our kids will be ready for that. It’s gonna be fun going over and playing on their court.”
Kramer’s 6-foot-9 junior center, Nick Czarnowski, agreed with his coach’s sentiments, while at the same time not shying away from what the rivalry presents to anyone associated with the two program.
“I mean, honestly, the fire’s always gonna be there against Naperville North,” said Czarnowski, who recorded a double-double against the Huskies on Jan. 11 after posting game-highs of 21 points and 12 rebounds. “We’re always gonna have that energy and we’re always gonna want to beat them and it’s always fun against them.”
Continuing to get healthier while playing around several shooters hovering around the perimeter, Czarnowski posted a double-double in the win over Glenbard North, putting together a 23-point, 13-rebound effort. This makes Kramer’s seventh-seeded Redhawks (15-8, 8-3 DuPage Valley) all the more dangerous in the upcoming Class 4A Bolingbrook Sectional.
Meanwhile, the defending DVC champion Huskies conclude their season with two of their three remaining games against No. 16 West Aurora, one of two DVC co-leaders, and Naperville Central.
Coming off their 66-51 loss at the other co-leader in the DVC, Glenbard East, last Friday, the Huskies have continued to operate quite well without the presence of a true superstar.
While Naperville North (17-7, 7-4 DuPage Valley) looks to build some momentum going into the Bolingbrook Sectional as a 10th seed, Huskies coach Jeff Powers likes where his team sits heading down the home stretch.
“Our kids are used to (tough games). That’s why we played the schedule we did,” Powers said. “They’re very used to knowing that they’re gonna play against good teams all the time and compete. They’ve competed all year. There’s no one that’s blown us out. We’ve been in every game, so their mindset is (strong). They have a mindset of a champion. They know that it’s hard work to do, but they go after it.”
Seventh-ranked Benet still has a lot to play for as its three-game run to end the regular season begins Friday night at home against Marist.
“We played five really good opponents in the last five games (before playing at Wheaton Academy on Tuesday night) and coming out of that stretch 4-1, we feel pretty good about it and I think the thing is Viator is a very good team,” Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said. “They played very well against us (in a 55-54 St. Viator win at Benet on Feb. 1) and we didn’t do some of the things we would like that I think make us a solid team in that game and they exposed us.”
The Redwings, who earned the second seed in the Class 4A Bolingbrook Sectional by navigating successfully through a difficult schedule, are solely focused on grabbing that conference title before worrying about postseason play — which they’ll begin at home on Feb. 26.
Coming off a 51-39 victory over Wheaton Academy on Tuesday that saw them connect on nine three-pointers, that season-long goal can be checked off the to-do list as soon as Friday night.
Benet (22-4, 5-1 East Suburban Catholic) can clinch at least a share of its third East Suburban Catholic Conference title in the last four years with a win Friday night against the RedHawks.
“I think we learned a few things from that game (against St. Viator), so I think we’re in a decent spot. We certainly don’t anything for granted,” Heidkamp said. “We know we’re gonna have to play (well). We’re gonna have to get better the next week-and-a-half if we want to win this conference. There’s no question about that.”