Preps Talk

Balciunas finds a basketball home in Lemont

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Balciunas finds a basketball home in Lemont

Lemont is a football school, like Mount Carmel and Providence and Maine South and Glenbard West and Lincoln-Way East and Wheaton Warrenville South. Coach Eric Michaelsen's football team has lost only 17 games in the last nine years and finished second in the state playoff in 2007 and 2008.

Meanwhile, coach Rick Runaas' basketball team was 25-3 last year, the program's first winning season since 2001. Lemont has qualified for the Sweet Sixteen only once. Coach John Jones' 26-4 team lost in the supersectional in 1975.

"I tell the kids that they have to earn the recognition we get," Runaas said. "If you want more, you have to win big games. We finished third in the Romeoville tournament last year. We want to win the title this year. And we have to win games against teams like Richards, Hillcrest, Providence and Thornton Fractional North."

Lemont had a chance to make a statement last Saturday against Marian Catholic. But Tyler Ulis scored 25 points and Marian Catholic prevailed 77-56, snapping Lemont's nine-game winning streak.

The Indians bounced back by defeating Fenger 75-63 on Wednesday in the opening round of the Romeoville tournament. Mike Wisz sparked the Indians by scoring 26 points.

In his fourth year, Runaas has three starters and four other experienced players returning from last year's 25-3 squad, which lost to Providence in the regional final. After going 8-18 for two years in a row, Runaas said he finally found a class that bought into his coaching philosophy.

"I found a group of young men to focus on," he said. "Last year's senior class dedicated a lot of time and energy to the program. They changed the culture on how to think about basketball at Lemont.

"We taught our kids how to play fast, not slow. We let our kids play. The community opened up a recreation center two years ago. The kids are playing more basketball than ever before. And they are involved in more travel basketball. Our freshman and sophomore teams are both 8-0."

Runaas insists another means of tracing the rise of interest in basketball in Lemont and the recent success of the Indians' varsity is the emergence of 6-foot-1 senior point guard Juozas Balciunas, who transferred from St. Joseph after his sophomore year. He averaged 17 points per game last season and is averaging 22 this season. He scored 22 in the loss to Marian Catholic.

"He is our leader, the stereotypical coach on the floor," Runaas said. "He knows how I want the game played. He shoots well off the dribble. He handles the ball. He is better than the recognition he gets. I haven't seen a better point guard this year."

Balciunas came to the United States from Lithuania when he was 10 years old. Although he lives in Lemont, he chose to attend St. Joseph in Westchester because of its reputation as a great basketball school. He also decided to follow two of his close friends to the school.

After two years, he decided to transfer to Lemont. "My parents and I talked about it. It was too far to drive and the tuition was too expensive. It was a tough decision. But I'm glad I did it," he said.

Ironically, Balciunas didn't begin playing basketball -- or any sport, for that matter -- until he was in sixth grade. He began playing club basketball at the Lithuanian center in Lemont.

"The more I played, the better I was getting. The more hard work, I got better and better," he said. "I loved playing basketball, to compete and meet new people. It drove me. Once I started playing, I didn't joke around with it. I did things I had to do to get better."

He wants to play in college. He is talking to Division II and III schools, including Lewis University. But recruiting isn't a priority at the moment, even though he is a senior. He is just focusing on the basketball season.

"Every game is a first game, like a championship game," he said. "We don't talk about our record, even if we are 10-1. We just try to be 1-0 after every game.

"My game? To play as hard as I can, to do whatever it takes...score, rebound, pass, hustle, dive for the ball, do the dirty plays. I don't talk about scoring, about averaging so many points, I have more opportunities to score this year. When we play a good team, they realize we have tough players and we play hard."

Balciunas lines up with 6-foot-2 junior Mike Wisz (17 ppg), 6-foot-3 senior Jack Shereck (8 ppg, 9 rpg), 6-foot-5 junior Jake Terrazas (7 ppg, 8 rpg) and 6-foot-3 senior Martynas Einikis (12 ppg, 6 rpg), another Lithuanian who transferred from Oak Lawn. The sixth man is 5-foot-10 senior Joe Hehir (10 ppg).

"We could have done better last year, especially the last game against Providence. We weren't ready to play them the second time," Balciunas said. "But this year we don't think like that. We beat Evergreen Park back-to-back. We played hard from the first minute. We don't under-estimate any opponent.

"The difference with this team is our chemistry. The younger kids saw what they saw last year. They want to be a part of what we had last year. Everybody is bringing good energy. We're more physical this year, stronger, and we have more scorers, not just me. That's our edge.

"I don't look at it that this is my team. But I try to be the leader. We have a lot of leaders. My friends joke around about Lemont being a football school. I say it isn't a football school anymore. It's a basketball school, too. I think the town and the school feel that basketball is important, just as important as football.

"Football has been huge in Lemont for a long time. Basketball has only been good for the last two years. I feel it is a basketball school right now. More people show up for the games and support us. We want to show that last year wasn't a fluke, a one-year thing. We came out with the mentality that we want to prove how good we are to the people who doubted us."

High School Lites Week 5 Football Roundup

High School Lites Week 5 Football Roundup

High School Lites featured plenty of great action on Friday night as CSN had highlights of many of the area's top matchups. No. 1 Lincoln-Way East hits the road to face Lincoln-Way Central while No. 2 Prairie Ridge hosts Bartlett during homecoming week. Staying in the Fox Valley, we also have highlights of a battle between top-25 teams as No. 17 Cary-Grove travels to No. 20 Huntley. 

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @CSNPreps for all of the latest IHSA football scores and highlights.

Also be sure to read a preview of Saturday's big Week 5 matchups as Edgy Tim breaks down Notre Dame battling St. Patrick and West Aurora traveling to South Elgin.


DRIVE: Prairie Ridge: Episode 6

Viewers' Choice Game of the Week: Marmion uses late touchdown to upset No. 24 Montini

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Homewood-Flossmoor's Justin Hall

St. Xavier Team of the Week: Eisenhower Cardinals

Faith in Football: Old school film stories

Friday's Top 25 Scores

No. 1 Lincoln-Way East 28, Lincoln-Way Central 14

No. 2 Prairie Ridge 63, Bartlett 7

No. 3 Maine South 56, Evanston 14

No. 4 Marist 63, Marian Catholic 6

No. 5 Lake Zurich 41, Warren 35, 2 OT

No. 6 Phillips 68, Vocational 0

No. 7 Homewood-Flossmoor 28, Lincoln-Way West 9

No. 8 Naperville Central 31, Wheaton-Warrenville South 17

No. 9 Lyons 31, Leyden 0

No. 11 Barrington 26, Fremd 14

No. 12 Stevenson 41, Zion-Benton 7

No. 13 Hinsdale Central 31, York 7

No. 14 Hoffman Estates 20, Conant 0

St. Rita 38, No. 15 Mount Carmel 21

No. 16 Nazareth 24, Benet 14

No. 20 Huntley 41, No. 17 Cary-Grove 32

No. 18 Palatine 28, Schaumburg 21

No. 19 Batavia 7, St. Charles East 0

No. 21 Glenbard West 35, Downers North 14

No. 23 Neuqua Valley 41, Thornwood 8

Marmion 28, No. 24 Montini 27

Glenbard North 20, No. 25 Naperville North 7

Other Highlights

Payton outlasts Lindblom

Oswego East holds off Plainfield North

St. Ignatius takes down St. Joseph

Herscher beats Coal City

Saturday's Week 5 Football Games to Watch

Saturday's Week 5 Football Games to Watch

While Friday night had a majority of the Week 5 IHSA high school football action, Saturday features a few games to watch. 

Edgy Tim also breaks down a clash between rivals Notre Dame and St. Pat's as well as unbeaten West Aurora going on the road to face South Elgin.

Catch all of Friday's highlights from Week 5 on High School Lites.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @CSNPreps for all of the latest IHSA football scores and highlights.


Notre Dame at St. Patrick 

EDGY's Take: Notre Dame (3-1, 1-1) is looking to get a win on the road this week. Look for the Dons to get the football into the hands of junior running back Ty Gavin early and often. St. Patrick (2-2, 1-1), coached by first-year head coach Adam Guerra, will look to his offense as a strength. It’s paced by senior quarterback Brett Rosenbusch and senior wide receiver Joey Lombardi. Can the St. Pats’ defense slow down the Notre Dame running game?

EDGY's Pick: Notre Dame 35, St. Patrick 28 

West Aurora at South Elgin

EDGY's Take: West Aurora (4-0) and head coach Nate Eimer will look to get back into the Class 8A state playoff field again this fall. The Blackhawks have another talented team led by junior running back JaQuan Buchanan, sophomore quarterback Will Tammaru and sophomore defensive tackle Denver Warren. South Elgin (4-0) and head coach Pat Pistorio will look towards senior quarterback Nate Gomez, who's a major threat with both the run and the pass. Can the West Aurora defense lock down Gomez? Can the South Elgin defense contain the multiple weapons of the West Aurora offense?

EDGY's Pick: West Aurora 36, South Elgin 27

Other Saturday Games of Note

Fenwick at No. 10 Loyola -- The Ramblers (3-1, 1-0) have won three straight games following a season-opening loss to No. 6 Phillips as they once again look like a major factor. Loyola will face a Fenwick (3-1, 1-0) group that is coming off of a 28-0 win over Leo last week.  

No. 22 Crete-Monee at Rich East -- The Warriors (3-1, 1-0) have won three straight after dropping their season opener to No. 1 Lincoln-Way East as they're coming off of an impressive 71-0 win over Bloom. Rich East (1-3, 0-0) is playing its first Southland game of the season after falling in a high-scoring game to Thornton in Week 4.