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Two wins give Warriors a share of the WSGC title

Willowbrook’s boys basketball program hasn’t given Warrior fans too much to cheer about in recent seasons. That’s changed during the 2014-15 campaign, which produced the program’s first conference title in more than four decades.
The Warriors needed a pair of home victories over two challenging West Suburban Gold Conference (WSGC) opponents last week to secure a share of the conference title with Morton. It was not easy, but Willowbrook pulled out wins in each game. The Warriors earned a 96-94 win over Proviso East in a back-and-forth thriller on Feb. 17. Three days later, the Warriors closed out the WSGC season with Friday’s 67-62 win over Leyden.
This is Willowbrook’s first conference title in boys basketball since the school joined the WSGC at the start of the 1986-87 school year. The Warriors last won a conference title in boys basketball in 1971-72, when they captured the Des Plaines Valley Conference championship. The 1971-72 team set a school record for victories in a season with 21. This season’s Warriors tied that mark with Friday’s win over Leyden.
In addition to locking up a piece of the conference title, last week’s wins extended the Warriors’ winning streak to 15 games and raised the team’s overall record to 21-6. Willowbrook has not lost since it dropped a 64-53 non-conference decision to Leyden in the Dec. 27 title game of Glenbard West’s holiday tournament.
Willowbrook and Morton share the 2014-15 WSGC championship with identical 9-3 records. The Warriors and Mustangs split their two head-to-head meetings. Morton earned a 92-70 homecourt win over Willowbrook on Nov. 17. The Warriors avenged that loss with an 80-78 win over the Mustangs in Villa Park on Feb. 6.
Like Willowbrook, Morton closed out the WSGC season with a pair of wins last week. The Mustangs beat Addison Trail on Feb. 17 before defeating Proviso East on Friday.
“It’s amazing,” said Willowbrook senior Jake Bruns after Friday’s win clinched a share of the conference title. “I can’t believe we did it.”
Bruns is one of the current Warriors who was a member of last season’s team, which suffered through a forgettable 2-25 season. The 2013-14 Warriors had an 0-12 WSGC record and finished the season with 15 straight losses.
“Last year, every day our heads were down,” said Bruns. “This year, we’re screaming, we’re yelling, we’re having fun in the locker room. Our confidence is high. We’re having fun out there.”
“It means a lot to come out here with my brothers and win a conference championship,” said senior Kyle Rushing, a three-year varsity player, following Friday’s victory. “Not just for us, but for everybody who ever went to Willowbrook, who’s going to go to Willowbrook.”
Rushing said that he and his teammates believed at the beginning of the season that they could win the conference title.
“It was one of our goals,” said Rushing, who referred to a team meeting at the beginning of the season. “We didn’t believe it was far-fetched. We just knew that we had to put in the work, and that it wasn’t going to be easy.”
The Feb. 17 victory over Proviso East definitely was not easy. The Pirates were seeking revenge against the Warriors, who scored a 68-65 victory teams’ first meeting of the season on Jan. 24 in Maywood. Proviso East held a 42-37 halftime lead in last week’s rematch in Villa Park. The Pirates and Warriors were tied at 61-61 at the end of the third period.
If anyone ever writes a book about the Warriors’ 2014-15 season, he or she could devote an entire chapter to the fourth quarter of last week’s game against Proviso East. Willowbrook outscored the Pirates 35-33 in the period to earn the narrow 96-94 victory. Proviso East held a 75-68 lead with 5:45 to play. The Pirates’ lead stood at 77-71 with just under five minutes left in the game. The Warriors then scored 15 straight points to take a 86-77 lead with under three minutes to play. Instead of wilting, the Pirates mounted their own furious rally to grab a 94-93 lead with under one minute to play.
Sophomore Alonzo Verge helped the Warriors regain the lead when he made a pair of free throws with 37.8 seconds to play to put Willowbrook ahead 95-94. Verge finished the night with 41 points—22 in the first half and 19 in the second half. He made 13 of 23 shots, including four of 11 attempts from 3-point range. He sank 11 of 12 free throws.
“We tried to keep our energy as high as possible and not let up,” said Verge after last week’s win over the Pirates. “I have confidence in my teammates, and they have confidence in me. We just try to feed off that.”
Rushing made one free throw with 5.8 seconds left to give the Warriors their 96-94 lead. The Pirates missed a 3-point shot at the buzzer.
“Anytime you beat Proviso East, it’s sweet,” said Willowbrook coach Chris Perkins after the game. “We knew it was going to be up and down. We knew we could run with them.”
Bruns scored 18 points in the victory, which easily set the team’s season record for points in a game. The Warriors’ next-highest output was their 80-point game against Morton on Feb. 6. Rushing scored 11 points, while junior Kevin Miller and senior Micah Williams scored 10 and eight points, respectively.
Verge scored 25 points in Friday’s win over Leyden. The Warriors held a 47-25 lead early in the third quarter, but the Eagles reeled off 13 straight points to cut the lead to 47-38. Verge made a 3-point shot at the end of the third quarter to give the Warriors a 54-38 lead with eight minutes to play. The lead stood at 62-56 with two minutes left. Willowbrook held off the Eagles by making five late free throws—two apiece by Bruns and Williams and one by Verge.
Rushing and Miller each scored 11 points in Friday’s victory.

Glenbard East

The Rams improved to 13-14 overall and 6-7 in the Upstate Eight Valley Conference following Friday’s 54-52 victory over East Aurora in Lombard. Junior Terrance Lakes scored the winning field goal for Glenbard East. His basket with 6.5 seconds left in the Rams’ final home game of the season broke a 52-52 tie.
Junior Patrick Peterkin led Glenbard East’s offensive attack with 19 points. Peterkin made six field goals, including a pair of 3-point shots. He made five of six free-throw attempts. Junior Zach Walsh, who made four 3-point shots, added 14 points. Walsh sank a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter. He made two more of the long-range shots in the third period. Lakes scored five of his nine points during the fourth quarter. Sophomore Michael Finley added seven points.
The Rams will complete the regular season with tonight’s conference game at Metea Valley. Glenbard East will open the IHSA Class 4A playoffs with Monday’s regional quarterfinal game against Proviso West at the Proviso West Regional.