|I wasn't the only good-looking bald guy in attendance.|
I wanted to attend this classic Catholic League showdown for a couple of reasons. First, it was a chance to see Loyola (13-2), arguably the best team in the North Division, square off against St. Rita (6-5), the leader in the South. Would the Ramblers get to pay back the Mustangs for ruining their perfect regular-season record in football last fall? Or would the Matthews brothers, Charles and Dominique, put on a show for all the college coaches in attendance?
Second, and just as important, I was able to meet my old friend Kevin at Vito & Nick's Pizzeria on South Pulaski for a pregame pie. (My Google Maps took me there through a town called "Hometown." That has to cause confusion in an Abbott-and-Costello sort of way.) The last time we met there it was a Friday in Lent and Kevin, who teaches at a Catholic grade school, shamed me into eating fish. (That was two years ago, and afterward we saw Marist's Nic Weishar outplay Curie's Cliff Alexander in a huge postseason upset. Weishar, who is headed to Notre Dame next year to play football, can tell his grandchildren about that some day.)
So it was the Matthews brothers and Northwestern-bound Vic Law (whom Kevin taught along with his sister, Simone*) against the North Siders, whom Michael O'Brien of the Sun-Times calls "the best shooting team in the state." Wow. Let's get started!
My first impression was that St. Rita seemed to have a height advantage over the Ramblers. But with the 3-point rule (which I am still getting used to) Loyola could level the playing field (or basketball court).
After a first quarter which ended in an 11-all tie, the Ramblers began to take it to the hoop -- literally. Time after time, Loyola's smaller players drove to the basket for a lay-up. Kevin and I looked at each other incredulously. "Didn't Rita prepare for this game?" we both said. But later I read in the Sun-Times:
“The loss is on me,” said St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare. “I decided to take away the threes. I thought we did a great job on that in the first half, but then we gave up all the layups.
And in the Tribune:
Loyola did not immediately respond well to St. Rita's aggressive man-to-man defense, but once they started making sharp backdoor cuts for layups, the Ramblers' trademark threes opened up for Jack Morrissey and James Clarke.
So the Ramblers led by 15 points at the half and 27 midway through the third period. And all I could think was, "Boy, these guys look sharp! They're really a well-coached team." It wasn't just looking like a bloodbath in the making; it was a bloodbath. Kevin and I said something to the effect:
"At least we got to have a sausage with garlic and spinach pizza at Vito & Nicks."
"Yeah, that was good."
"And don't forget the poppers."
But then Rita's full-court press began to take its toll on the Ramblers. The Mustangs went on an incredible 33-5 run to bring the South Siders within four points with just a couple of minutes left in the game. We were on the edge of our seats! Would this be the comeback of the year? (At the end of the third, with Loyola still up by 17, I tweated, "Momentum shifting?" Prescient.)
|The St. Rita students, clad in beach attire, really showed up for the game!|
My last thought as I left the gym and shook hands with Kev was "Is Loyola destined to meet up with Stevenson in the playoffs? Will the Patriots get a chance to avenge their semifinal loss to the Ramblers in football last fall? Does Karma even work that way?"
* By the way, Kevin has always raved over both of the Law kids. Simone also plays hoops, for Loyola University.