Playoffs wind down on special High School Lites

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Playoffs wind down on special High School Lites

Whether your favorite playoff basketball team is in 1A, 2A, 3A or 4A, we will have you covered this weekend. High School Lites on Comcast SportsNet and CSNChicago.com will bring you scores and highlights from the 1A & 2A state championships, along with 3A and 4A sectional title games across Chicagoland.

Will Seton win their second state title in four years? Can Simeon and Proviso East continue their dream seasons? Here is a snapshot of each game that we will profile in a special Saturday edition of High School Lites. Friday's matchups for the class 1A and 2A semifinals are listed below. Please note that we will show highlights of Saturday's first and third place state championship games on High School Lites, along with all of the sectional games listed. Rankings reflect the CSN Top 20, sponsored by the Marines.

Mason City-Illini Central (17-12) vs. Carrollton (29-4), 1A State Semifinal, 12:00 p.m.

It's a matchup of two teams few thought would be remotely close to Peoria's Carver Arena this weekend. Carrollton, who is headed to state for the first time since 1984, shocked top seed Brimfield in the super-sectional 58-48. Joey Coonrod, Tyler Watson and Jordan Harr pace the Hawks. IC is here thanks to a 55-40 win over Fisher. The Cougars, who started the season 3-10, are led by a pair of juniors: Jared Entwistle and Jordan Bradshaw.

Woodlawn (27-5) vs. North Shore Country Day (19-4), 1A State Semifinal, 2:00 p.m.

Winnetka's North Shore Country Day has earned their first trip to state in boys basketball. The Raiders, who feature junior guard Austin Curren, dispatched Sterling Newman Catholic 41-35 to advance. Curren can be deadly behind the arc. They'll face Woodlawn, a school that is quite familiar with championship-level basketball. This will be the third trip to Peoria in four years for the Cardinals. Christian Hollencamp will be tough to contain.

Rockford Lutheran (29-3) vs. Normal-University (27-4), 2A State Semifinal, 6:30 p.m.

The Crusaders have earned their first state championship playoff ticket since 1995. Keep an eye on a talented pair of underclassmen, freshman Nate Wieting and sophomore Thomas Kopelman. They combined for 33 points in Tuesday's victory over Fieldcrest. U-High overcame an 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter against Teutopolis to advance. The Pioneers feature Keita Bates-Diop, a 6-6 sophomore forward who is drawing considerable interest from Big Ten schools.

No. 18 Seton Academy (28-4) vs. Breese-Central (32-1), 2A State Semifinal, 8:15 p.m.

The Sting won a state championship in 2009 and they certainly have the talent to do it again this year. Russell Robinson, Jr. leads a very balanced and deep attack. The 6-9 senior racked up 15 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks in Tuesday's super-sectional win over Providence-St. Mel. Central has been one of the state's top-ranked teams all season. Their go-to guy is senior Brandon Book. The Cougars or Sting will be very tough to beat in Saturday's championship game.

Wheaton-St. Francis (20-7) vs. No. 13 Marshall (23-7), 3A Glenbard South Sectional Championship, 7:30 p.m.
Look out for St. Francis and dont let the seven losses fool you. This team, with coaching veteran Bob Ward at the controls, stunned top-seed Orr in the sectional semis and will be looking for more Friday night behind 6-6 senior Ryan Coyle, who is averaging 16 points a game. He will be integral in the offense. Can they compete with one of the top teams in the city? Marshall features Florida International-bound guard Milton Doyle in their arsenal.

No. 20 North Chicago (22-6) vs. Lakes (20-10), 3A Grayslake Central Sectional Championship, 7:30 p.m.

The top two teams in the North Suburban-Prairie go head-to-head. The Warhawks, who feature Illinois State-bound Aaron Simpson, have yet to be tested in the playoffs. They have won their games (Fenton, Elmwood Park and Grayslake Central) by an average of 26 points. Lakes defeated Ridgewood 75-60 on Wednesday to get to the title game. They played NC twice this season (both losses) but one of them was a 90-86 nail-biter in double overtime. Lakes Direll Clark had 24 points in that game.

No. 10 Bloom (27-3) vs. Homewood-Flossmoor (22-7), 4A Lockport Sectional Championship, 7:30 p.m.

The Bloom offense, behind Lejavius Johnson, Johnny Griffin and Donald Moore, usually gets the rave reviews in this space. But their defensive effort against Thornton in the sectional semis was one for the ages: 1 FG and four points given up in the second half. Homewood-Flossmoor also knows a thing or two about defense. They held Andrew to 22 points in Wednesdays semifinal. On offense, the Vikings Tim Williams can cause fits for the opposition.

No. 7 Elgin (26-3) vs. Rockford-Auburn (29-2), 4A Dundee-Crown Sectional Championship, 7:30 p.m.

If youre a fan of guards, look no further than Fridays contest between Elgin and Auburn. The Maroons heart and soul is Kory Brown. He is one of the top shooting guards in Chicagoland, and he shares the backcourt with a talented point guard in Arie Williams. But as point guards go, Auburns Fred Van Vleet is one of the best in Illinois. The Wichita State-bound star, who also showed off his skills at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, is very tough to contain.

No. 3 Warren (25-3) vs. Mundelein (26-7), 4A Barrington Sectional Championship, 7:30 p.m.

The No. 3 Blue Devils are looking to send long-time head coach Chuck Ramsey out on a high note. Ramsey, who has 402 career wins and is retiring after the season, has a loaded team this year. Both 6-9 Nathan Boothe and 6-8 Darius Paul can turn a game in a heartbeat. Theyll take on fellow North Suburban-Lake foe Mundelein and their standout guard Robert Knar. Warren has already beaten Mundelein twice this year, 61-45 and 87-79.
No. 2 Proviso East (29-0) vs. Schaumburg (24-5), 4A Schaumburg Sectional Championship, 7:30 p.m.

If Proviso East needs any motivation in this game, they should look no further than the Curie-Marist shocker last Friday. Marist, on their home floor, stunned No. 3 Curie in the regional championship. The No. 2 Pirates could face similar adversity in Schaumburg. The Saxons, fresh off a 64-60 win over Oak Park-River Forest, have home-court advantage. Keith Carter, Sterling Brown and the Pirates face Christian Spandiary, Kyle Bolger and a talented Schaumburg team. Expect a classic March Madness atmosphere.

No. 1 Simeon (29-1) vs. No. 15 Marist (26-5), 4A Argo Sectional Championship, 7:30 p.m.

There was talk in a few circles that Whitney Young a suddenly healthy Whitney Young could give Simeon a serious run in the sectional semifinal. A 12-0 run by Jabari Parker and company squashed the upset talk and the Wolverines went on to win by 10. And then theres Cinderella, known as Marist in Illinois. The RedHawks followed up last Fridays epic comeback vs. Curie with a 67-63 thriller over Bogan. Marist is well balanced, but they have a marquee player in L.J. McIntosh. With apologies to Gus Johnson, will the slipper still fit for Marist after Friday?

As a reminder, this weeks episode will air on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. We head to Lombard to feature our Muscle Milk Team of the Week, the Montini Broncos. This west suburban powerhouse has won three consecutive girls basketball state championships. What has been their secret to success?

Plus, well take a drive down Memory Lane in our Flashback segment, and well have in-depth coverage of the Simeon Wolverines, who will be featured in our Drive segment, sponsored by Greater Than. This week's segment takes a look a thrilling win over one of their biggest rivals, Whitney Young, in the sectional semifinal.

IHSA State Championship games can be found on NBC Chicago Nonstop (Digital Channel 5.2, Comcast 341, RCN 50, WOW 130, and AT&T U-Verse 1742).

High School Lites streams live on CSNChicago.com. We invite you to share your story ideas as well by clicking here.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Jack Aho

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Jack Aho

Jack Aho is the reigning state champion in Class 2A and recently shattered a course record at Warren High School. 

But beyond posting some of the area's fastest times, cross country is also a family affair for Aho.

See why he was named this week's Wintrust Athlete of the Week in the video above.

Football takes a back seat as Griffins honor PFC Aaron Toppen on Salute to Troops night

Football takes a back seat as Griffins honor PFC Aaron Toppen on Salute to Troops night

“Football is life. Until it’s not.”

That message Lincoln-Way East head coach Rob Zvonar relayed to his team in the week leading up to the Griffins’ Week 5 tilt against Thornton was an important one. For the 115 student-athletes who make up a team with legitimate state-title aspirations, high school football can feel like a life-and-death situation. Until it’s not.

Private First Class Aaron Toppen, a 2013 Lincoln-Way East graduate, was 19 when he was killed in Afghanistan two years ago. And on that June 9, 2014, a country lost a hero, a family lost a son, a brother and an uncle, and a community lost a friend who had walked through the halls of Lincoln-Way East High School and drove his famous pick-up truck through town just a year earlier.

So when the Griffins held their annual Salute the Troops night last Friday night, before blowing out the Wildcats 42-6, Aaron’s surviving family was an easy choice to join the team as honorary captains. Aaron’s mother, two sisters, uncle, grandmother and niece were recognized before the game, all in loving memory of a fellow Griffin graduate who gave the ultimate sacrifice to his country.

“Aaron’s passing was a big deal to our community,” athletic director Mark Vander Kooi said. “And we wanted to embrace his family and let them know that we cared about them, loved them and appreciated the sacrifice they made.”

When Lincoln-Way East principal Dr. Sharon Michalak contacted Aaron’s sister, Amy, about honoring her brother last week’s football game, the family jumped at the opportunity. Aaron and his family had been honored at a game in 2014, just months after Aaron’s death. And with the Griffins hosting “Salute to Troops” night, and that coinciding with the annual 5k run held in Aaron’s name the following day, the family accepted the invitation with open arms.

“It’s just amazing. The support never stops, and to hear that they want to keep Aaron’s name alive and honor him, it just really makes us feel wonderful,” Aaron’s mother, Pam, said. “It’s a way we’re getting through it, is through the support of everybody.

Many of the Griffins know the Toppen family – Amy and Amanda are also graduates – but for those unfamiliar with Aaron’s story – like the student-athletes who transferred from North – head coach Rob Zvonar made it a point to relay that message during practice week. Before the team dressed Friday night, all 115 players watched a pair of video tributes to Toppen in one of the school’s classrooms.

“It’s awesome playing in his honor,” senior Sam Diehl said. “We understand football’s just a game and that (Aaron) made the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life for our country, that we have more to give than just football to our community, that there are people out there we need to be more thankful of.”

Once the pregame festivities ended the Griffins put on a worthy performance. They scored touchdowns on their first six drives of the game into the third quarter. Jake Arthur threw three more touchdown passes, wide receiver Nick Zelenika topped 100 yards and the Griffins’ offense averaged better than 4.5 yards per carry.

Devin O’Rourke tallied five tackles for loss and two more sacks – he has five in the last two weeks – and the Griffins defense limited the Wildcats to only a late touchdown in the final minute. The Griffins first team defense has allowed zero points in its last six quarters and appears to be putting its early-season struggles behind them.

But the night belonged to the Toppen family and Aaron’s legacy. The night coincided with homecoming weekend, and it brought back more than a handful of Aaron’s old classmates. One of them, current Illinois offensive lineman Nick Allegretti, spoke highly of Aaron and the impact he left on the school and community.

“I always enjoyed talking in class sitting with him,” he said. “Any person that’s going to go out and fight for our country and fight for our freedom, I have unlimited respect for. So obviously it’s a sad thing to remember, but I think it’s awesome seeing the support we have out here, from the community to the school to the administration.”

The following day each member of the Griffins and the coaching staff traveled to Mokena to participate in the third annual Our Fallen Hero 5k run in Aaron’s memory. Zvonar and the seniors joked about the aches and pains they’d feel running the 3.1 miles less than 12 hours after a football game, but they also understood the importance of showing up, honoring a fellow Griffin and raising money for the Pat Tillman Foundation.

“We’re able to run if we have to, walk if we have to, do what we have to to get it done,” running back Nigel Muhammad said. “Because it’s not about us.”

Added the 285-pound Diehl: “We’re more than happy to run the 3.1 miles. Even us offensive linemen don’t mind.”

More than 600 people were expected to show up for the fundraiser run, which had raised nearly $50,000 in its first two years.

“Aaron would probably say, ‘Mom I don’t like attention, what’s going on here?’ Because he was never that type,” Pam said. “But such a tragedy has brought together a community, and like Amanda said we’re blessed to be a part of this community…We just love seeing everybody.”

Football is life. Until it’s not.

It would have been enough for Zvonar and the coaching staff to speak about who Aaron Toppen was, and the impact he left on a school, a community and a country. The Toppen family could have simply been honored at halftime. Attending the 5k could have been optional for the team to attend.

Instead, football took a back seat for a night in Frankfort. The Toppens were gracious enough to be placed front-and-center to remember a young man who gave his life to protect the freedoms of each one of the thousands in attendance that evening.

“You think back to Aaron Toppen, who a few years ago was walking the hallways of this school and in the same classroom as these guys, and going to the same homecoming dance, and this was just a little bit ago,” Zvonar said. “A young man that’s barely older than these guys and then he goes off and serves his country and fights for the rights for all of us, and pays the ultimate sacrifice. You certainly don’t let that go by unnoticed.

“You want to really make sure that that’s pointed out, that freedom doesn’t come free. And these young men have an opportunity to come out and play this great game tonight. And all these things they’re allowed to do because of the bravery of young men like Aaron Toppen. One of those situations where I know as long as Coach Vander Kooi and myself are here we’ll do everything we can to stop and talk about him.”