By: John Nee '93
Last year St. Rita entered the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic as a .500 basketball team without any idea where they were headed. After four straight wins, they were champions of one of the most prestigious holiday tournaments in the state of Illinois.
Fast forward one year and the Mustangs were not going to sneak up on anybody in the sixteen-team field.
They opened tournament play against Rockford Auburn the day after Christmas and both teams started as if they ate way too much Christmas candy as they trailed the Knights 24-22 in a very sloppily played first half, but the Mustangs broke out in the third quarter outscoring their opponents 17-12 as they hung on for a hard-earned 54-52 victory in a game that featured eight ties and fifteen lead changes. Senior Javon Cooley led the way with 16 points while junior Connor Serven came off the bench to score 12.
Highly ranked Oswego East and Boise State recruit Ray J Dennis would be next up for St. Rita, and the Mustangs came out on fire racing to an early 28-16 lead, but Oswego would catch them at 39 by halftime. The Wolves would then outscore the Mustangs 15-3 in the third quarter on their way to 66-55 win over St. Rita. Junior Joel Watts was the only Mustang scorer in double digits as he scored 10.
The consolation bracket awaited St. Rita on Friday evening as they battled 15th-ranked Lincoln Park, who had beaten Whitney Young in Public League action only one week earlier.
Behind four players in double figures the Mustangs would outlast the Lions 65-60 to pick up their most impressive win of the season.
Senior Jeremiah Oden came off the bench to lead St. Rita with 19 points on 7-8 shooting while fellow senior Stedmon Ihejirika, junior Alec Millender, and Serven all added 12 points for the winners.
In Saturday's 5th-place game, the Mustangs battled St. Charles East and, powered by a late 10-0 run, St. Rita captured the 5th place trophy with a 49-36 win. Watts led the way with 13 while senior Doug Posley and Cooley each added 10 as St. Rita improved to (10-4) on the season.
St. Rita will now travel down to the Big Easy as they will play in the Sugar Bowl Classic, one of the top tournaments in the country. The Mustangs will open tournament play against Country Day, the defending Louisiana state basketball champions who return 9 lettermen and all 5 starters from last year's AAA state champion team. You can follow all the action at https://allstatesugarbowlhoops.com