Boys Basketball: Lemont making big reboundLemont's #25 Juozas Balciunas drives to the basket in front of Joliet Catholic Academy's #40 Sean Chamberlin held at the Romeoville Christmas Classic and Lemont won 41-27 on Monday, December 26, 2011. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 9, 2012 10:09AM
The basketball drought at Lemont that peaked last season with the end of the Christmas Classic and another losing record appears to be over.
Lemont starts 2012 with an 11-2 mark that includes the championship of the Knights/Warriors Winter Classic and third place last week at the 16-team Romeoville Christmas Classic. For a program with mostly losing records in recent years, that turnaround is dramatic.
“I’m really happy with my team right now,” third-year Lemont coach Rick Runaas said after the Romeoville tournament. “They like each other, they’re playing well together. Hopefully, the best is still to come. We’re still trying to get better.”
Lemont defeated Joliet Catholic and University High at Romeoville before losing a close game to Crane, No. 15 in the Sun-Times, for the small school title.
“I think the kids were real excited about playing a program like Crane, to use it as a measuring stick,” Runaas said.
The measuring stick indicates Lemont, which hadn’t won 10 games since the 2007-08 season, is headed for more success during the rest of its South Suburban Conference season.
“Without disrespecting other teams, Crane is as good as anybody else in our conference,” Runaas said.
South Suburban Blue rival Hillcrest, No. 17 in the Sun-Times, is the only team above Lemont in the standings. The Indians will play Hillcrest on Feb. 24 in their regular-season finale.
A lot of basketball will be played between now and then, including Friday’s conference crossover against Red Division leader Richards. Lemont’s next Blue Division game is Jan. 20 against Oak Forest.
The starting five has been seniors Paul Otruskevicius, Joe O’Brien and Matt Lipowski, junior point guard Juozas Balciunas and sophomore center Jake Terrazas.
“Basically we’ve got two point guards on the floor because Joe played point guard last year,” Runaas said. “They both have that mentality.”
The addition of Balciunas, whom Crane coach Chris Head called “a player,” has been vital to Lemont’s success this season.
“I’m finding out more about Juozas Balciunas,” Runaas said. “The bigger the game, the better he performs. He wants the ball. He likes the big stage. That’s the kind of kid you want.”
Joe Hehir, Erick Rydberg, Jack Shereck and Mike Wisz have provided key support off the bench, and Ed Masiulionis even got his first varsity points in the third-place game at Romeoville.
“Everybody that comes in knows they can contribute,” Runaas said. “Guys are supporting each other. It’s a good feeling right now.”
Plainfield East (11-0), No. 1 in the Herald-News, won the Pekin Holiday Tournament with victories over Thornridge, Peoria Richwoods, Morton and Washington, the last of which beat top-seeded Springfield Lanphier. Southwest Prairie leader East continues its conference season Friday at Plainfield North.
Minooka (8-4) had lost three of its previous four games before rebounding with a victory over Wheaton North to finish 2-2 at the Hinsdale South Tournament. The Indians resume their Southwest Prairie schedule Friday at Oswego and have a home game Tuesday against Kankakee.