High school basketball: Lemont uses defense and hot shooting to upset Thornton

High school basketball: Lemont uses defense and hot shooting to upset Thornton

Maybe no one on the outside thought this was Lemont’s year.

There are only two seniors on the roster and none in the eight-man rotation Lemont relied on in Friday’s Class 3A Marian Catholic Section Final.

On the other side was Thornton, with four senior starters led by Illinois rookie Ty Rodgers.

But Lemont coach Rick Runaas asked his players two simple questions: Why not us? Why not now?

“Matas (Castillo), Nojus (Indrusaitus), Rokas (Castillo) – they played as much basketball as anyone,” Runaas said. “It doesn’t matter what class they are in. They have experience. They know how to play. »

“Coach said we have a whole season to play, we’re not new anymore,” junior forward Joe Pender said.

And they showed it, opening up a 13-point second-quarter lead and earning an efficient 56-49 victory.

Fresh off his first section title since 1975, Lemont (27-7) will be looking for the first state trip in program history when he takes on Simeon in Monday’s UIC Supersection.

Rokas Castillo made his first five 3-point shots and finished with a game-high 21 points. Matas Castillo, twin brother of Rokas, added 12 points. Indrusaitus, one of the top sophomores in the state, scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

But the defensive effort on Rodgers was perhaps the biggest benefit. Rodgers committed his third foul in the first minute of the third quarter, his fourth about six minutes later and his fifth with 5:14 left and Thornton at six.

He finished with six points on 2-of-9 shooting and six rebounds.

Lemont started with 6-4 junior Patrick Gardner on Rodgers before moving to a 1-2-2 zone with Indrusaitus, also 6-4, slipping in to help the Thornton star.

So it was a good plan, one that also neutralized the rest of the Wildcats just enough.

“It was about defending the team and shooting the shooters,” Runaas said. “What we did effectively was not let them out in transition. We didn’t flip it much, we didn’t have any long misses.

Rokas Castillo’s fourth three-pointer made it 22-9 early in the second quarter and the lead was 14, 36-22, when Thornton (23-6) finally managed a point.

Nojus Indrusaitis de Lemont. left, Matas Catillo, center, and Rokas Catillo, right, take a look at the section championship trophy.

Allen Cunningham / For the Sun-Times

Ariohn Herring and Vincent Rainey each scored five points in a 10-0 push to cut the deficit to 36-32. But Lemont regrouped and the Wildcats never came within six again.

“They had a good plan,” Thornton coach Tai Streets said. “Ty was on a bad streak; we hoped that wouldn’t happen. But I’m proud of my guys, they kept fighting. …

“We thought that if we closed Nojus, everything would be fine. But (the Castillos) stepped up. They are as tough as they come.

It wasn’t even just the Big Three who carried the charge for Lemont. Pender got five of his seven points early and Gardner added five rebounds and two assists.

“A lot of people focus a lot on the top three,” Pender said. “It was important for Gavin (Kelby) to come off the bench, for Conor (Murray) to come off the bench. Pat (Gardner) had a good game.

Herring led Thornton with 15 points, nine rebounds and two steals. Rainey scored 14 points and Mark Williams added nine points.