Boys Basketball First Round of Conference

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Caden Brannan, Reporter

After finalizing their cuts, North now knows who they will be going into the 2019 season with. They will be looking to build off of last years 16-16 record, which broke the school record. And since they will be dropping down to 3A for the postseason, they will be looking to make a run deep into the playoffs. 

And after the way North played in the summer, a deep playoff run is very likely. They went and played some of the best kids and teams in the state over the month of June. They went into the suburbs and played in a tournament at Riverside Brookfield. In that tournament, they played against Loyola Academy, who had two 6’8” twins who are going to Drake and Sienna. North played a tough game but eventually fell just short and lost by eight. And in the next two games they played Lincoln Park, from the Chicago Public League, and Glenbard East. North wrapped up their tournament with a game against defending 4A champions, Evanston. Evanston has two players that have gotten offers from UW-GreenBay and multiple others. The game was back and forth the whole time, but North was unable to close out the game and lost by four.

North is returning almost all of their players from last year’s team, they will be led by returning starters Anthony Espenson(‘20) and Zach Reidenbach(‘20). And they will have key contributions from Matt Bucher(‘20) and Donnavyn Sayles(‘22). They also return Carson Blatchford(‘20), Andre Brown(‘20), Kyle Kaempfer(‘20), Caden Brannan(‘20), Aedan Rowe(‘20) and Jacob Bucher(‘22). They will be missing Josh Tripplett(‘20) and John Carlson(‘20), who both got injured during the football season, for the next couple of months. 

North started their season with a big test, they travelled to Prairie Ridge to play Geneva. Geneva made it to the Super Sectionals last year and lost to East in a close battle. North knew it was going to be a challenge to open up the season against a very successful team. But North started off very strong, holding Geneva to just 10 points in the first quarter. North was in the lead for the majority of the first half because of their defense and partially because of Zach Reidenbach and Carson Blatchford, who both combined for 19 points in the game. North went into halftime up 21-17. That four point difference was the most either team got up until the final minutes of the game. North continued to rely on their defense in the third quarter, but after Geneva was fouled on a layup to end the third, the game was tied up at 31-31. The fourth quarter continued to go back and forth, but North was unable to score when it was needed most and fell short 45-39.

North was looking to rebound from their first loss of the season with a game against Prairie Ridge. North jumped out quickly to a 9-2 lead after baskets from Anthony Espenson, Matt Bucher, Zach Reidenbach, and Carson Blatchford. But Prairie Ridge got going on offense in the second quarter to close the lead to 22-18 at halftime. North was able to regain control of the game in the third quarter mainly because of Anthony Espenson, who scored 16 points in the game. North extended the lead to 15 points going into the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter was more of the same and they were able to get their first win of the season, 51-40.

North kept their momentum rolling into their third game of the season, as they played Crystal Lake Central. It was a close first quarter, but North started to pull away in the second because of Anthony Espenson’s scoring. Espenson finished the game with 24 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. He was able to keep North in control for the majority of the game. The game did get tied up going into the fourth quarter, but contributions from Zach Reidenbach, who added 9 points, and Carson Blatchford, who added 10 points, allowed North to pull away for a 56-47 victory.

Going into the final game of the tournament, North faced off with Mchenry. North got off to an unusually slow start and couldn’t get much going on either end of the floor for them. Similarly to the previous game, Anthony Espenson kept North in the game. But even with Espenson’s scoring, North found themselves in an unusual position, they were down three going into halftime. A different North team came out in the second half and a couple of quick layups by Matt Bucher were able to push North ahead. Behind the 42 points scored by the starting five, 24 of them coming from Espenson, and holding Mchenry to just seven second half points, North took the victory 42-28. 

North going 3-1 this year in the Thanksgiving tournament is the first time a Belvidere North team has achieved that since the school opened. It just adds to the list of broken records that this group of players have accomplished. 

With three wins under their belt, North travelled to Guilford for their first conference game of the season. North knew it would be a great game because Guilford returned their two best players, Tyler Knuth and Jack Holmstrom, they knew those two would have to be contained if they wanted to get their first conference win. And in the first half North did exactly that, after being down by three at the end of the first quarter they were able to get a 20-16 lead at halftime. That lead was built by Zach Reidenbach, who finished with 14 points, and North’s defense. They were able to hold Knuth and Holmstrom to just eight combined points in the half. In the second half, it was a very close game, neither team got up by more than seven at any time. North had the lead at times during the second half, but because of the constant lead changes neither team could take control of the game. With 1:30 left in the game, the score was tied 39-39 when Knuth scored to take the lead. North was unable to score on the next possession, after having to foul North lost 45-39.

After a tough loss at Guilford, North hosted Freeport for their first home game of the season. Nothing during the game went as they expected, it started off with a slow first quarter, where North only scored six points. The second quarter was up and down but North was still only able to score 15 points in the first half. They got off to a better start in the second half, mainly because of Anthony Espenson’s scoring, he finished the game with 28 points. North was up 31-25 at the end of the third but Freeport made a run in the fourth and North was unable to recover from it. After having to foul multiple times at the end of regulation, North fell to Freeport 51-41.

North who was trying to get back on track, travelled to East for their third conference game of the season. They knew that East would be a tough game, but it got even harder without their leading scorer, Anthony Espenson. He was serving a one game suspension for receiving two technical fouls in the previous game. But even without Espenson, North battled with East throughout the first half. They were down six after the first quarter, and briefly took the lead in the second quarter. North was able to find scoring in places they hadn’t all year, they had nine players score for them. Zach Reidenbach was the leading scorer with nine, and Carson Blatchford followed him up with seven. Although North found some scoring, they still went into halftime down seven. And in the second half they started to run out of gas and East continued to make shots. North wasn’t able to keep up their scoring with East and the game eventually got out of reach for North. They ended up losing 63-41.

After a rough start to conference, North was looking to knock off Boylan for only the second time in school history. North needed to come out strong because if they gave Boylan too much momentum, Boylan was good enough to pull away very quickly. The first quarter was very close, as neither team got up by more than four. In the second quarter, Boylan opened up with a 7-0 run, down 21-12 North made a small run to end the first half and went into halftime down 24-18. In the third quarter, Boylan went on another run and stretched the lead to 11. But North was able to cut into the lead, mainly because of Anthony Espenson’s 22 points, Carson Blatchford’s 15 points which were all threes, and Zach Reidenbach’s 10 points. Even with all of North’s scoring, they still found themselves down 40-33 going into the fourth quarter. And with just under two minutes left in the game, North was still down seven. But after multiple defensive stops and Espenson, Blatchford and Reidenbach combining for eight points, North had the ball down two with 15 seconds left. And after moving the ball around, North got the ball to Reidenbach, who scored the game tying layup with one second left. Boylan called a timeout and had to go the length of the floor with the game tied 50-50 and one second left on the clock. North’s Kyle Kaempfer forced a high pass that ended up hitting the ceiling of the gym, this allowed North to take the ball out underneath their basket with one second still on the clock. After a broken play, Anthony Espenson caught the ball and tipped it in for the 52-50 win. North fans stormed the court to celebrate North beating Boylan for only the second time in school history.

After the big win against Boylan, North had another big game as they hosted Jefferson. North fell behind early in the first, mainly due to their lack of offense. They ended the first quarter down, 13-6. The second quarter started out similarly to the first, but North was able to close the half on a run and went into halftime down 28-19. North picked up their play on offense, Anthony Espenson and Zach Reidenbach combined for 35 points in the game. Kyle Kaempfer and Matt Bucher also combined for 17 points in the game. North’s scoring allowed them to get back into the game, they were just a few defensive stops away from taking the lead in the fourth quarter. North cut the lead down to four but struggled to get stops when they needed them most. Even with the scoring for Espenson and Reidenbach, North still fell short 59-54.

Looking to get back on track, North headed across town to Belvidere. Both teams had very slow starts to the game on offense. The game was tied 4-4 after the first quarter after neither team was able to get anything on offense to go. And the struggles continued into the second quarter as neither team could find a rhythm, North went into halftime up 12-10. Both teams continued to struggle in the third quarter, and North went into the fourth quarter up 19-18. They started to find their rhythm in the fourth quarter and got scoring from Anthony Espenson, Zach Reidenbach, and Kyle Kaempfer. The three of them combined for 21 points in the game. North also got two timely baskets from Donnavyn Sayles. North was able to stretch the lead and eventually win 38-28.

After their Christmas tournament, North came back to conference play with a home game against Auburn. Auburn was coming off of a big conference win over Boylan in double overtime. North was expecting the game to be a battle because of the two conflicting play styles. North got exactly what they expected, at the end of the first quarter North was down 10-6. But in the second quarter, North went on a 13-2 run, which included three point makes from Anthony Espenson, who finished with 16 points, and Kyle Kaempfer, who finished with nine points. The run was capped off with a dunk from Matt Bucher to end the first half. Auburn made multiple runs in the second half to stay in the game, most of their runs were fed on North’s turnovers. But even with the turnovers, North was able to keep a four point lead going into the fourth quarter. North was unable to stop the turnovers and it eventually game back to bite them at the end of the game. A stretch of six consecutive turnovers put North down 39-33 before back-to back threes by North tied the game up. But with just over a minute left, North couldn’t get the stops or scores that they needed to take control of the game. After fouling and hitting free throws, Auburn stretched the lead to seven and North lost 46-41.

Trying to get a much needed win, North travelled to Harlem. The first quarter was a battle as both teams went back and forth, but the lack of rebounding put North down 11-8 after the first quarter. Harlem went on a run in the second quarter and got up by as much as eight, but Anthony Espenson was able to stop their run at the end of the half with five points of his own to cut the lead to 23-19. Harlem opened up the second half with a 12-3 run of their own, but North was able to survive that run and cut the lead to 37-33. They were never able to cut the lead to less than four in the fourth quarter, but Espenson’s 20 total points kept them within reach until they had to start fouling. North lost 54-41 after having to foul.

North wrapped up their first round of conference games with a home game against Hononegah. North jumped out early on Hononegah, Anthony Espenson got going and scored 15 points in the first quarter. With the offense rolling, North ended the first quarter up 21-11. In the second quarter, they struggled to score but they still went into halftime up 27-23. North exploded on offense to start the second half, Carson Blatchford got hot and didn’t slow down. He ended the game with 26 points and eight three pointers. North got up by as many as 15 in the third quarter and went into the fourth quarter up by 10. But Hononegah went on a run in the fourth quarter to get them back within reach. North was able to get the necessary stops and timely free throws to keep the lead. North won 55-54 after Hononegah hit a three with one second remaining.

North wrapped up the first round of conference play with a 3-6 record in conference with big wins against Boylan, Hononegah, and Belvidere. North will be looking to build on those wins and try to turn some of their close loses in wins in the second half of their season.