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Matt Limbrunner (42) of Kaneland goes to the hoop as Kole Smart of Rochelle defends. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
With the regular season winding down in boys basketball, conference titles are on the line this weekend for several area teams.
Kaneland will be looking to snap a four-game losing streak when it travels to Morris Friday with a chance to lock up a share of the Northern Illinois Big 12 East crown.
Hinckley-Big Rock is also on the road, needing to beat Paw Paw to duplicate last year’s unblemished run through the Little Ten. Should the Royals stumble, there would be a two-way tie for first with the possibility of a three-way tie.
Meanwhile, in the DuPage Valley, if West Aurora and Glenbard East can win league games Friday and Saturday, they will meet Wednesday at West to decide the crown.
And while Neuqua Valley has wrapped up the Upstate Eight Valley championship, Metea Valley and Bartlett meet Friday to decide the runner-up since both are 8-3 in league play.
Good Knights, bad Knights
“We’ve had a little dry spell,” acknowledged Kaneland coach Brian Johnson, whose club lost three times last week in games with West Chicago, DeKalb and Wheaton Academy. This past Tuesday, they fell at St. Charles North.
DeKalb was the lone league game of the bunch, though, leaving Johnson’s club 13-10 overall and 6-2 in the league. The Knights are one game ahead of Sycamore with each having two conference games remaining.
“DeKalb is a rival and a big, physical team. I know, record-wise, they haven’t been great but they played well and earlier this week went out and beat LaSalle-Peru, which is leading our league’s other division,” said Johnson, whose team is led by Matt Limbrunner (13.7 ppg) and John Pruett (10.1).
“It definitely would have been nice to win (the league title) on our own floor.”
Kaneland’s final league game is the following Friday at Rochelle. Sycamore, which plays Rochelle Friday, will finish at home against its arch-rival, DeKalb.
Johnson, who gets 4.5 assists per night from point guard Drew David, was encouraged in the 61-50 loss to St. Charles North.
“We hadn’t been starting out fast and we came out pretty aggressive,” he said. “In fact, for three quarters we were very competitive but then they had a sophomore (Jack Callaghan) get hot and scored 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter. He hadn’t come up in the scouting report we had, which included seeing them three times.”
“We’ve got to take care of business,” H-BR coach Bill Sambrookes said of his veteran team that won the Little Ten Conference crown and wants to finish a second straight 8-0 season in league play.
Paw Paw (19-5) trails at 6-1 in the league and will be out to avenge an 11-point loss to the Royals in a semifinal of the conference tourney two weeks ago. In that game, H-BR bolted to a 16-2 lead, then held on as the Bulldogs got the margin down to single digits at one point.
Seniors Bernie Conley (13.7 ppg), Jared Madden (12.6 ppg), Michael Bayler (11.2 ppg) and Zach Michels (9.2 ppg) lead a balanced scoring attack. Fifth senior starter Mitch Ruh averages 3.2 assists and all have been on varsity since they were sophomores.
Senior Mitch Hemesath, a part-time starter last year, tore his ACL in this year’s opener and has been out all season except for a brief appearance on senior night. Seniors Andrew Klambauer, George Thompson, Nick Gentry, Tyler Runge and Mack Carls also contribute and junior Tom Sanders has provided a spark off the bench recently.
Newark, also 6-1 in the league, plays at 5-3 Indian Creek Friday and could grab a third of the title if it wins and Paw Paw wins.
“Newark beat (Paw Paw) in overtime early in the season, and then (Paw Paw) beat Newark in the third-place game at the conference tournament,” said Sambrookes. “Paw Paw has three kids who were on the varsity as sophomores. They’ve got a lot of talent. They didn’t have the year they wanted last year but were hurt by a couple injuries. They’ve been healthy this year.”