BLUE ISLAND – It was not the ending the Minooka boys basketball team was hoping for.
Playing chase to a seemingly unreachable dream of winning a boys basketball regional, the Indians fell two wins shy of that mark again this year. Finding a way to clear a hurdle that has stood in front of the MCHS hoops team since 1977 will have to wait another year.
Minooka did win its opener at the Class 4A Eisenhower Regional against Lincoln-Way North, 54-36, but then bowed out after a 35-27 loss to Oak Forest in the semifinals. The two games were virtually polar opposites of each other with Minooka scoring early and often against North and then virtually being shut out against the Bengals.
In the first game, Minooka got out to a 15-2 lead and then essentially rode that to the 18-point victory.
“That was us playing our style of basketball. Hard nosed basketball,” Minooka coach Scott Tanaka said after the win against North. “That’s how we play. We don’t let teams score a lot of points against us. It’s the way we play.”
Eight different players scored for Minooka against North, which was led by Joe Butler with 13 points and Mark Geers added 12.
“We share the ball. That’s a testament to our seniors,” Tanaka said. “The seniors have bought into the way we have coached and our brand of basketball. Who cares who scores as long as at the end of the night you win?”
The tea leaves were not hard to read after that game. Plain and simple, Minooka shot 50 percent from the field (18-of-36) while outrebounding North, 27-18.
On Tuesday, the Minooka offense just did not get the same result in being almost non-existent in the second half.
“I wouldn’t say it was non-existent in the second half because we got great shots,” Tanaka said. “We had numerous from within five-10 feet. We got great looks, the ball just didn’t go in. I feel for the kids because we had a great opportunity to win a basketball game and it just didn’t come out our way.”
Minooka was jusy 3-of 14 from the field in the second half and senior guard Neal Tyrell said that playing back-to-back nights may have played a part in that.
“It might have been playing two days in a row, but our shots just were not falling,” he said. “We got good looks at the basket but nothing went in.”
Still Minooka went out to an 18-10 lead by halftime, was up 23-18 after three and the score was tied at 25 with less than 3:30 left.
“We did what we’ve been doing all year and that is playing defense,” Tyrell said. “That also turned into good offense for us and we got up and were feeling good.”
That is until the wheels virtually fell off for the Indians and the Bengals went on an 8-0 run that for all intents and purposes put the game away.
“We were still down four,” Tyrell pointed out after Minooka called timeout at 2:37 trailing 29-25. “Basketball is a game of runs, but we still felt like we were still in the game.”
Minooka finishes the season at 16-15 and while it fell short of its first regional title since 1977, the winter did have its moments according to Tyrell and fellow senior Adam Alexander.
“It was a great season for us,” Tyrell said. “The eight seniors on this team became family. It’s hard for it to end.”
“We’ve been together for all four years now and we’ve been pretty close,” Alexander said. “It’s going to be hard to leave each other. We will always be friends and have this bond.
“We had a lot of great wins. I’ll remember that and the bus rides, having fun while still staying focused on our objectives. We got work done and that was a great thing about us.”