Fremd Fends Off Pesky Palatine, 55-49
"Hit your opponent right in the face."
According to Fremd senior big man Jack Walsh, that is the recipe for success in a very competitive Mid-Suburban League.
And on Friday night, it's exactly what the Vikings did as it faced the Pirates of Palatine on the road in an MSL West showdown, jumping out to a lead of as many as 15 points in the first half, and withstanding a furious second half rally by the Pirates, to improve to 7-1 on the season.
"Every time we come into this gym, it's a tough, competitive game," said Fremd head coach Bob Widlowski. "At least it has been for the last 30 years that I've been coming here."
The Vikings didn't waste any time in this one, opening up the first quarter on a 7-0 tear, capped off by a 3-pointer from junior Eli Schoffstall (17 points, 2 steals, 2 blocks) at the 6:13 mark.
On the defensive front, Fremd held Palatine without a field goal until the 3:46 mark when the Pirates Grant Dersnah sliced though the lane for two to make it 7-3 Vikings.
However, Fremd kept it's foot on the gas, closing out the quarter on a 9-4 spurt, aided by senior Ed Geist's buzzer- beating 3-pointer.
Things got even worse for the home squad with 3:04 left in the second stanza when the Vikings roared ahead by a score of 27-12 following a 3-point play by Walsh (15 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks).
"We knew we had a size advantage down low and the coaches wanted to capitalize on that," said Walsh. "I think I did a pretty good job of that tonight."
Despite getting star forward Julian Campbell back from injury, the Pirates were rendered helpless on the blocks against a mountain of a young man in Walsh.
Still, Palatine found a way to hang around, and thanks to buckets by Luke Seiffert (16 points) and Campbell in the final 1:18 of the half, Fremd held a 27-16 edge at intermission.
The Pirates nearly mimicked the Vikings start to the game with a 9-0 run to open the third quarter that culminated with a Brandon Storm 3-pointer that cut the deficit to 27-25.
But after nearly a 6-minute scoring drought, Fremd's Chris Smyros (13 points) nailed a jumper to give his team some breathing room.
Later in the quarter, Fremd's lead swelled to 34-27 when Walsh converted a layup following a block by Schoffstall.
"In the MSL, you have to come out strong and smack your opponent right in the face," said Walsh. " Some teams won't be able to recover, but Palatine's a great team and they were able to recover."
After a scoreless first half, Pirates sophomore Sam Millstone (7 points) drained a 3-pointer with 20 ticks left in the third quarter to trim the Vikings lead to 37-33 headed into the final frame.
Once again, Smyros provided his team with a buffer when he hit a floater to make it 41-35 with 6:45 left in regulation.
Schoffstall then added a steal, block and two key buckets to push the Vikings lead to 47-39 with 2:02 left in the contest.
Following a Storm straightaway 3-pointer that made it 47-42, everyone forgot about Walsh on the ensuing inbounds.
Naturally, senior Ryan Saxe completed the court-length touchdown pass to his teammate for yet another bucket to go up 49-42, and Fremd (7-1,6-1) held on for the 55-49 victory. Palatine dropped to 3-5, 3-4.
"Palatine made a nice second-half charge," said Widlowski. "But Jack and Eli stepped up for us, we hit a couple free throws and got a few stops when we needed it.