Before they became allies on the basketball court, Ben Ortiz and Peyton Schrag were rivals while attending Immaculate Conception School in Morris and Milton Pope School in Marseilles, respectively.
“They always seemed to pull it out against us somehow,” Schrag said of Ortiz’s I.C.S. teams when they played his own from Milton Pope.
“One in particular I still remember. We were playing in the championship game of the (Ottawa) Wallace Tournament. We had come back, and I hit a three that sent it into overtime. They ended up beating us by one after one of our guys missed a free throw. It was a pretty rough game.”
Ortiz went on to attend high school at Morris, and Schrag went on to Seneca. Except for summer ball, their paths failed to cross at the prep level. Schrag did play 27 minutes for the varsity Fighting Irish when they lost 52-40 to Morris at the 2010 Plano Christmas Classic, but Ortiz did not appear in the game.
Outside of school, however, Ortiz and Schrag were teammates, as they played AAU ball for the Illinois Ambush. Beginning next year, they plan to become teammates in another setting. The two recent high school graduates have committed to attend, and play basketball at Lake Forest College. They will both pursue pre-medical studies.
Both waited until much later than many of their peers to decide on a college. Ortiz considered Cornell College and Knox College, among others, before Lake Forest won out. Schrag gave strong consideration to Judson College but picked Lake Forest well after the end of the 2012-13 Fighting Irish season. The two did share some thoughts, Ortiz says, on Lake Forest during the selection process.
“The coaches were the main reason for me. When I first visited, they were all really cool to me,” Ortiz said. “The facilities are nice and the campus is beautiful.”
In Schrag, Lake Forest is getting a player that averaged 10.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as a high school senior.
“Peyton has been training for this opportunity for four years now,” Seneca head coach Russell Witte said. “I have not seen a player, outside of Seth Evans, commit more to the gym and the weight room, ever. Lake Forrest College is a great choice for Peyton, as he has the opportunity to see some quality minutes right off the bat.”
The area’s prep scoring leader in 2012-13 at 14.9 points per game, Ortiz was a unanimous All-Northern Illlinois Big 12 Conference East selection.
“We are thrilled for Ben that he gets the opportunity to compete and play basketball at the next level. He worked extremely hard during the season, as well as during the offseason, to improve as a player, and he was lucky enough to impress the coaches at Lake Forest,” Morris head coach Joe Blumberg said.
“I think a lot of people get caught up in what NCAA level an athlete chooses. And too many end up with a poor fit. In this case, I think Ben has a wonderful chance to have a great college basketball experience, but even more importantly, walk out of Lake Forest with a phenomenal education.”
Schrag, who hopes to earn playing time at point guard soon for Lake Forest, is the latest in a long line of Seneca grads given the chance to play college basketball.
“It was what I always wanted to do — play a college sport. It’s what I’ve dreamed of,” Schrag said. “It’s really cool to be able to say I was another who went on and played like the rest of the guys from Seneca who have done it. Even though it’s just a Division III opportunity when Garrett (Callahan) and Griffan (Callahan) and Seth Evans have played Division I, it’s still really cool.”
A college basketball player coming from Morris is a rarer occurrence. Ortiz is the first since two members of the Class of 2009 got the opportunity.
“It’s definitely exciting. It’s not like I’m playing football. It’s not the most popular sport at Morris,” Ortiz said. “In that way, there’s a sense of pride from it, I guess, in being able to represent Morris. Coach Blumberg was always saying to leave the program better than we found it, and I feel like this is helping me do that.”