By Scott Taylor
For the Bugle
Friday night’s Plainfield Central Regional final between Joliet West and Romeoville was a battle of experience vs. youth.
The Tigers came in as defending regional champs and had four senior starters. Meanwhile, it had been several years since the Spartans competed in a regional championship and had just one senior starter.
That helped lead to a 72-44 Joliet West win for its second straight regional title.
“We’re happy with the outcome,” West coach Nick DiForti said. “Being back to back regional champions is special. This senior group definitely has something they can talk to their kids about. It’s been a two-year journey with most of these guys. The experiences they had last year are different this year. The only way I can explain it is first time you drive a car, you are nervous and anxious. But after a year, it is second nature.”
“You have to tip your cap to West,” Romeoville coach Marc Howard said. “Their seniors came out and basically in a win or go home, they showed their experience and their battle-tested background and it proved too strong tonight.”
West jumped out to a 20-10 lead after one quarter and 36-22 at the half.
“We wanted to come out and prove a point,” West point guard Teyvion Kirk said. “We wanted to set the tone early and come out with a lot of energy and intensity. We wanted to take a big lead and coast the rest of the way. (In the other games) we built a big lead and took them lightly. We wanted to get up big and keep it big.”
In the first two meetings, West built up a big lead only to see Romeoville come back both times in the second half. This time that wouldn’t be the case as a 13-0 Tiger run early in the third quarter put the game away at 50-24.
“I reminded them at halftime that both of our previous games with them we were up by 20 and they went on a big run,” DiForti said. “I even did it at the time outs. They put up numbers quick and I didn’t want to go through it.”
“Last year we played in two close games and this year it was two blowouts, so that was kind of different,” West forward Trevian Bell said. “But this was more of a statement game for us for the area and that we aren’t the kind of team everyone says we are. We are a lot more mature than last year. We start four seniors. Our mentality has changed. We have one goal and that is the state championship. Every game we want to play like our last.”
Kirk finished the game with 21 points and 11 rebounds from his point guard position, while Bell added 16 points and seven rebounds as the tandem spearheaded a fast paced attack.
“It’s a new dimension for me being a rebounder,” Kirk said. “Me being a point guard, I can start the break early. I put it in transition, look for my teammates, and if they don’t collapse I take it to the basket and score.”
“They sped us completely up,” Howard said. “We played against them two games prior where I thought we did a good job pacing ourselves and at times controlling the pace. Tonight they just sped us up and dominated the trenches. Any time they had the opportunity to run they were down court. I wish them all the best because they have a good nucleus there.”
The Tigers now take on city rival Joliet Central at 7 p.m. Wednesday in a Lincoln-Way East Sectional semifinal.
“We’re going to use this game as momentum for sectionals,” Kirk said. “We’re going to take this one step at a time, one game at a time. Hopefully we can get to Peoria. We are playing our best and are only going to get better.”
“This gives us tons of momentum and a lot of confidence going into sectionals,” Bell said.
While the Spartans’ season drew to a close, the experience won’t be one lost on the school and community.
“It was a good experience for us and our student body,” Howard said.”It has been a while since we have been a part of a regional championship game and I’m very proud of the school and community for how they backed us tonight. It is our goal to bring them back into this environment in the near future and have us hold up that trophy for Romeoville.”
With all of the youth on the roster, it appears the Spartans are in good shape to get back to a regional final next year.
“Our guys are hungry, that is one thing I’m really impressed about,” Howard said. “They want to achieve big things. They see themselves getting to the state tournament. That is what the strive for. They talk about it all the time. It isn’t just about conference wins, it is about bigger things. There is so much success around us with Joliet West and Bolingbrook. Our guys want to be one of those stories going forward.”
The Spartans finished the 2016-17 campaign with a 16-12 record.
“It is a successful year,” Howard said. “Ultimately, we are looking to define success by achieving trophies in regionals and sectionals.”