Boys Basketball: St Rita survives Loyola on return to IllinoisWilmette- Peter Pujals (left) Loyola is pressured by Treston Forbes St. Rita as he drives the lane. Boys basketball game: Loyola vs. St. Rita. | Joe Cyganowski ~ For Sun Times Media
Updated: January 18, 2012 10:34AM
No. 11 St. Rita is a well-traveled bunch.
The Mustangs just returned from their third out-of-state tournament of the season, this time winning one of three games over the weekend at the prestigious Bass Pro Tournament of Champions in Springfield, Mo.
The reward back home: a brutal Catholic League schedule that never allows for an off night. But St. Rita is starting to get healthy and has primed itself for a run now that it has returned to Illinois to stay.
The Mustangs (9-7, 5-0 CCL North) overcame an early deficit and led wire-to-wire in the second half to hold off a game Loyola squad, 59-48, on Tuesday night in Wilmette.
“It’s been really tough,” Rita guard Tony Hicks said. “Going out there and playing the best competition is getting us ready for March.
“Coach (Gary DeCesare) always tells us that we play in one of the toughest leagues in the country, so we have to come out strong or we can lose to anyone.”
Dominique Matthews (12 points, six rebounds) scored Rita’s first eight points of the game in his first in-state action of the season, then Hicks scored 14 consecutive points to end the second quarter to turn a 19-14 Loyola lead into a 28-23 Mustangs advantage at the half.
The pace picked up considerably in the third quarter, and the turnovers followed for Loyola (6-11, 2-3 CCL North). The Ramblers committed six miscues in the period, and the Mustangs stretched the lead to 10 after three.
Loyola wasn’t done, however. Jack Morrissey (19 points) hit a deep three to cut the lead to five just over a minute into the fourth, and Peter Pujals (20 points) converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 3:27 to go to make it 49-45.
But Hicks knifed through the Rambler defense for a layup, then Victor Law (eight points, nine rebounds) blocked Pujals three times on the same possession, finally securing the rebound and drawing a foul to effectively ice the game.
Hicks led all scorers with 25 points and grabbed six rebounds, continuing to take the reins as the Mustangs finally begin to get healthy.
“Tony has done a great job improving from year to year and game to game,” DeCesare said. “He wants it, and he has a target now, and that’s a lesson he’s learning.”
“Dominique played well early on, but blew out because he hasn’t played in a while. A.J. (Avery) got his cast off today, so he’s still a few weeks away from coming back. It’d be nice to play with our whole team, but it gives the other kids a chance to show what they can do.”
Loyola is starting to feel the effects of the Catholic League schedule, coming up on the short end of a few close games in recent days as the Ramblers dropped to a season-worst five games below .500.
“We’re getting better and better,” Loyola coach Tom Livatino said. “Is it difficult losing? Yes, it’s very difficult, but you get better by playing very good teams and that’s what we’re doing.
“Our day will come. We all need some validation in the present, and we’re going to get it real soon. Our guys are hanging together and staying the course.”
Pujals said: “We came in with a game plan, but we didn’t execute it as well as we wanted. Our offense was there, but defensively we didn’t get it done.
“We’re coming up on another tough stretch, but we know it’ll make us better when it comes to the playoffs. It’s tough to lose, but we’re playing hard. It’ll click and we’re going to get on a roll.”