By Scott Schmid
For the Bugle
The ending wasn’t at all how the Downers Grove North basketball team would have drawn it up.
Playing for the opportunity to compete for a regional title on its own floor, the Trojans instead saw their 2016-17 season come to an end on March 1 at the hands of Hinsdale South.
But as heartbreaking as the 36-35 loss in a Class 4A regional semifinal was, the defeat couldn’t take away from all that the squad had accomplished over the previous three months.
Falling just one decision short of the 20-win plateau, Downers Grove North (19-8) did capture the program’s most West Suburban Silver conference victories in more than a decade. And after beginning the year by winning their first eight contests, the Trojans ended the season nearly as hot, capturing eight of the final 10 games.
“It was the greatest year ever,” said senior Ryan Pustelnik, who led his team with 13 points against the Hornets. “I love this group of guys and I’ll remember this year forever. We can hold our heads high.
“We started (the season) off great and then hit a little rough patch in the middle. But we kept fighting hard and we came back and did what we wanted to do. We just fell a little short (against Hinsdale South).”
The Trojans showed that fight in the playoff opener after trailing 16-1 at the end of the first quarter. They came all the way back and took the lead on two occasions in the final two minutes before the Hornets’ Zion Griffin provided the game-winning basket with 23 seconds left.
“I told the kids, that loss won’t define you,” DGN coach Jim Thomas. “And the great thing about this group is they are mature enough to understand how the journey goes and that there are ups and downs. This group really grew this year and they all truly cared. Going into the locker room (after the game), there wasn’t a dry eye.”
Downers Grove North must now say goodbye to a senior class of nine players.
“We were great together,” Pustelnik said. “We have played together on the same team for the last seven years and we know each other in and out.”
That group ended up doing some amazing things on and off the court.
“Every senior was on the Academic All-Conference list,” Thomas said. “Just that and the fact that they were always willing to do whatever was asked of them. They believed in what we were doing and they do everything the right way. They won the sophomore conference title and I don’t know if we’ve ever won that. They have a lot to be proud of.
“They work their tails off and it has been a special group since fifth grade. That core group always believed in the system and bought into the program.”