It was all smiles for coach Tom Prokopij and Maine West.
Despite playing without one of their leading scorers in Milos Dugalic due to injury, the Warriors knocked off Highland Park 48-45 to pull level with Highland Park atop the CSL North while handing the Giants their first loss of the conference slate.
“We just feel like this is our year to win,” said Maine West’s Matt Kentgen. “We still have the Deerfield buzzer beater in overtime from last year in the back of our minds and we just want to go out there every night and try our hardest.”
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Maine West couldn’t have asked for a much better start to the contest. The Warriors picked up two quick fouls on Highland Park’s Ziv Tal, and broke down the Giants confusing 1-2-2 defense with ruthless efficiency for 17 first quarter points.
Though Highland park attempted to slow down the game even further, Maine West continued to exploit the gaps in the zone defense, clean up on the offensive glass and received a huge boost from Ely Grimmer (14 points, 10 rebounds), who filled in admirably for Dugalic.
“The zone is hard to practice against because nobody else runs anything like it,” said Kentgen. “We had our scout team guys give us a good look for us and everyone did a great job whether it was Jack Collins and Ely in the post, or Julian and Darrington on the wings.”
Not to be outdone, Highland Park started to make their run early in the second half after Kentgen went out with foul trouble.
Though Kentgen did not score a single point in the first half, the senior was a major reason why Maine West’s offense was so effective in the first half with his passing from the high post and top of the key.
During Maine West’s lull in play, Daniel Michelon (15 points, three assists) started to dial it in from long range, en route to a 18 point third quarter to give the Giants a 36-33 lead entering the fourth quarter.
“They started lighting it up from deep and it gave us headaches in our huddles,” said Prokopij “We were thinking how are we going to guard all of these shooters out here, and I don’t know how but we did just enough.”
Luckily for the Warriors, the lapse in offensive play ended with the return of Kentgen (three point, seven rebounds, five assists) to the court.
The senior continued his role of creating opportunities for his teammates while scoring his only points with less than a minute left to give Maine West a 46-45 lead.
“Wasn’t that something? We came out on our fourth quarter run and that’s just his ability to catch and pass and be that calming figure for us,” said Prokopij. “Plus, every single game he’s come up with one big three.”
Maine West would never again relinquish the lead again as their defense stood tall, shutting out Highland Park over the last three minutes of the contest to secure the win over their conference rival.
Maine West has a week off before continuing their run to the CSL North title with a game against Deerfield while Highland Park will look to get back on track against Maine East.
Prokopij said: “We can’t take anybody lightly. Hersey had a losing record last year and they knocked us off, so we have to go on the road and win at Deerfield and that’s going to be an absolute battle.”