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Benet's Jack Euritt shoots a three near the end of the game over Curie's Joshua Stamps. | Patrick Gleason~For Sun-Times Media
Benet head coach Gene Heidkamp is well versed in East Suburban Catholic Conference basketball. Before coming to Benet prior to the 2008-09 season, he had served three years as an assistant at St. Patrick and four years as Nazareth’s head coach.
Heading down the stretch in his fifth season at the Redwings helm, Heidkamp has quickly put his stamp on the program in grabbing at least a piece of three ESCC titles in the last four years.
But while the focus has been winning the ESCC title in a year that’s seen Benet, Notre Dame, Marian Catholic, Marist and St. Viator all ranked in the Chicago Sun-Times’ Super 25 at various times, Heidkamp has repeatedly made reference to a milestone that the program is fast approaching.
Compiling a 99-16 record in their last 115 games, the Redwings can claim their 100th win in the last four years with a victory over Nazareth at home Wednesday night or with a victory over top-ranked Young on Saturday at the City-Suburban Showdown at the House of Hope Arena in Chicago.
“I’m not sure that I’ve even brought up that milestone to our players because I think it’s second to what’s at stake on Wednesday,” Heidkamp said.
First things first, however, as before the No. 7 Redwings, off to a 23-4 start, can worry about 6-10 junior center Jahlil Okafor and the rest of the Dolphins, a victory Wednesday over the Roadrunners would allow the program to lay claim to the outright ESCC title.
“Coming into the year, this was our main goal,” senior forward Pat McInerney said Friday after his game-high 17 points helped the Redwings secure a share of the ESCC crown in a 50-28 win over Marist. “Especially this year, the ESCC is one of the best conferences in the state, and the history of this conference speaks for itself.
“To win it three out of my four years, three of our seniors’ four years, is pretty remarkable. I’m speechless. But on Wednesday, we want to have it for ourselves. So we still have the motivation for Wednesday.”
McInerney, who will continue his baseball career next year at the University of Illinois, has been the one constant for Heidkamp as he has continued to build the Benet program back up to where it resided in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Brought up to the varsity about midway through his freshman season in 2009-10, McInerney provided punch for a team that surprised many in rattling off a 16-game winning streak and claiming a sectional title. That 26-4 team lost to Simeon, 68-60, in double overtime in the supersectional.
McInerney’s impact has only continued to get bigger in the following three years.
“He does a little bit of everything for us. Actually, a lot of everything for us,” Heidkamp said of McInerney. “He’s a great passer. He does well handling the ball. He’s shooting it better and better and he’s an unbelievable rebounder. I think he’s as good a rebounder as I’ve seen in high school. This is my 20th year in high school basketball — for his size, he’s as good a rebounder [as I’ve seen].
“He’s got a great nose for the ball. He just plays so hard. I can’t say enough about Pat. I’m very fortunate to be his coach for four years and we’re certainly gonna miss him. We don’t want to think about it just yet. But when he goes, he’s gonna have quite a [legacy] established for himself. He’s a four-year varsity player and he’s been a good player for all four years.”
With just two games remaining until Benet opens postseason play at its own regional on Feb. 26 against either Plainfield North or Downers North, the Redwings strive for that perfect game, a trait signifying a team that has piled up 23 victories to this point.
And it’s a team that continues to signify another trait of a Heidkamp-coached basketball team — getting better as the season goes on.
“The team has improved a lot since the beginning of the year, with football guys missing a lot of games,” senior guard Jack Toner said. “Our team has come a long way since that first tournament (Hoops for Healing in November). We still have a long way to go. We haven’t played a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination yet. We’re getting closer.”