Boys Basketball: Neuqua Valley ready for battle with Benet
BY BLAKE BAUMGARTNER For Sun-Times Media March 5, 2013 12:50PM
Jabari Sandifer (right) gets a chest bump from Neuqua Valley teammate Patrick Kenny after Sandifer sunk a long three-pointer in the fourth quarter against Waubonsie Valley Friday in the regional final. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 7, 2013 6:13AM
Less than 24 hours after securing the program’s seventh regional title and their first as part of the Neuqua Valley basketball program, the relief was palpable for its three senior leaders — Jabari Sandifer, Darien Miskel and Pat Kenny.
With memories of a pair of close losses in regional finals in each of the last two years serving as season-long motivation, the Wildcats got over that hump by winning the Class 4A Oswego East Regional last Friday with a 69-61 victory over District 204 rival Waubonsie Valley.
“It’s great since we’ve been trying to do it since sophomore year — me, Pat and Darien,” said Wildcats’ point guard Sandifer, who had 20 of his 22 points in the second half to help finish off the Warriors. “It feels great to win a regional, especially against Waubonsie — which makes it a lot better since that rivalry and everything.”
One word described Miskel’s thoughts when asked about the Wildcats’ third win in as many tries over Waubonsie Valley this year.
“Man, I’m so relieved. The last two have been like heartbreaking. I mean, the first one (against East Aurora in 2011) was in overtime,” he said. “Last year (against Plainfield East) was by a basket at the end of the game. This year, after having such a good regular season and then playing our rival in the regional championship meant just that much more and getting it senior year … it was a huge relief.”
Now armed with 28 victories, second only to the 31 victories the 2008-09 team registered, third-seeded Neuqua Valley’s attention turns to undoubtedly its biggest challenge to date — Benet.
Thursday night marks the first time the two programs will have crossed paths since Benet, as a 17th seed, put the ultimate scare into top-seeded Neuqua Valley in a semifinal at the 2009 Class 4A Batavia Regional before succumbing, 59-57, in overtime.
With current Northwestern point guard David Sobolewski piloting the Redwings’ offense, the Redwings had a three-point lead with 1:09 left in regulation and owned a five-point lead with 1:39 left in overtime before seeing the Wildcats rally both times.
“Yeah, (Coach Todd Sutton) has brought it up already and I have no doubt that he’ll bring it up again,” Miskel said on Saturday afternoon of the Wildcats’ two-point triumph over the Redwings four years ago. “(The Redwings) are very well-coached. They play as a team, just like we do, and it’s gonna be a huge challenge for us. But, I mean, we’re accepting of it. It’s gonna be a good matchup of two really good, really well-coached teams.”
Facing just one ranked team all season — Larkin — Neuqua Valley has compiled a 28-2 record and currently is riding a 10-game winning streak heading into the second semifinal of the Class 4A Bolingbrook Sectional against Benet.
But with all due respect to the Royals, who the Wildcats beat both on Feb. 15 and Feb. 22 while the Royals resided in the Chicago Sun-Times’ Super 25, or the rest of the Upstate Eight Valley, which had no team outside of Neuqua Valley ranked all year, Benet represents a different animal.
The Redwings present some challenges the Wildcats haven’t seen to this point — namely 6-foot-9 junior center Sean O’Mara and senior do-it-all forward Pat McInerney.
With 28 victories in 30 tries, the Wildcats have good reason to feel good as they sit two victories away from the program’s third sectional title.
“I think we’re definitely ready. I mean, of course, (Benet) will be one of the best teams and probably the best team we’ve played all year, but I think that we match up pretty well with them,” Wildcats’ senior center Pat Kenny said. “I think that player-by-player, it’s pretty good. O’Mara, yeah, I know he’s a great player.
“It’s gonna be tough for me, but I think everyone else and with the whole team, we match up well. We’re both good defensive teams. Probably gonna be a really low-scoring game, but we’re used to that. I think that, yeah, we match up well and it’s gonna be a good game. But I think we’re ready for it.”
Leave it to the Western Illinois-bound Sandifer to measure the pulse of his team and where their mindset is coming into this week.
“I want to show people that we’re not just a suburban team that no one is even talking about. It’s been like that all season,” he said.