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Shooter: Conference takeover nearly complete?

Homestead's Madisen Parker brings the ball up the court during Tuesday's quarterfinal against Bishop Luers. The Spartans will seek their second tournament title in as many tries in Thursday's final. (Photo by Dan Vance of The News-Sentinel)
Homestead's Madisen Parker brings the ball up the court during Tuesday's quarterfinal against Bishop Luers. The Spartans will seek their second tournament title in as many tries in Thursday's final. (Photo by Dan Vance of The News-Sentinel)
Homestead’s Jack Ferguson drives to the basket against the defense of Wayne’s Anthony Phillips during Tuesday’s quarterfinal. (Photo by Dan Vance of The News-Sentinel)
Homestead’s Jack Ferguson drives to the basket against the defense of Wayne’s Anthony Phillips during Tuesday’s quarterfinal. (Photo by Dan Vance of The News-Sentinel)
Carroll’s Julia Miller, right, defends Bishop Dwenger’s Ellen Ross during Tuesday’s quarterfinal game. (Photo by Dan Vance of The News-Sentinel)
Carroll’s Julia Miller, right, defends Bishop Dwenger’s Ellen Ross during Tuesday’s quarterfinal game. (Photo by Dan Vance of The News-Sentinel)
North Side's Brandan Johnson (10) defends Richard Robertson of Northrop during Tuesday's quarterfinal. North Side is the lone member of the "old SAC" to make this year's finals. (Photo by Dan Vance of The News-Sentinel)
North Side's Brandan Johnson (10) defends Richard Robertson of Northrop during Tuesday's quarterfinal. North Side is the lone member of the "old SAC" to make this year's finals. (Photo by Dan Vance of The News-Sentinel)

More Information

Boys
Wednesday’s semifinals
North Side 70, Bishop Luers 54
Homestead 64, Snider 59

Tonight’s championship
North Side vs. Homestead 8:15 p.m.

Girls
Wednesday’s semifinals
Homestead 59, Snider 52
Carroll 56, Concordia Lutheran 47

Tonight’s championship
Homestead vs. Carroll, 4 p.m.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

In second year after realignment, Homestead and Carroll obtain 3/4 of tournament final spots

Thursday, December 29, 2016 9:17 AM

When it was announced that Carroll and Homestead would be joining the Summit Athletic Conference for football and basketball starting with the 2015 school year, there was a lot of excitement, especially where the annual SAC Holiday Tournament was considered.

Something never really felt right when the field of the tournament was cut to eight teams after the closing of both Elmhurst and Harding. Carroll and Homestead were going to fill that void and do it competitively while still not being overwhelmingly difficult to beat in sports like tennis or golf or swimming that the SAC isn’t traditionally as strong in.

Flash forward not even two full years later and bam, here they are on the verge of possibly taking over the conference on the basketball court as they prepare for today’s tournament finals. The two schools are now a combined 12-4 in the last two years in the tournament, taking up two finalist positions last year.

It’s almost mind boggling that we are at this point so quickly. Yet at the same time, when Shooter watches coaching schemes of Homestead’s Chris Johnson and Rod Parker and Carroll’s Mark Redding, it shouldn’t be a shock. Just last night in the last of the semi-finals, Johnson’s Spartans intelligently fouled Snider’s Malik Williams in the closing seconds with a three point lead, sending the Louisville recruit to the free throw line and all but taking away the Panthers’ chance to tie the game. It is strokes of strategic genius that have made the conference’s two newest schools arguably the hardest to beat on any given night no matter the gender.

In the boys final, the Spartans will face quite the uphill battle in their attempt, with the girls, to be the first school to win both titles since Snider did so in 1997. In their way stands top-seeded North Side, seeking their fourth straight tournament title and history of their own. While there have been five three-peats on the boys side and nine all together, no team has ever won four straight.

If coach Shabaz Khaliq can do so, there has to be an argument for him as the greatest coach in the history of the tournament.

He used buzzer beaters to take his 2013 and 2014 titles, but did so with largely different teams personnel wise. While he returned a large part of the 2014 group for last year’s title, he had graduated the team’s leading scorer and single game tournament scoring leader Sean McGee. A win this year would be the first time that Khaliq would lead a team to the title with the same top tier guys as the year before.

There has to be intrigue all over the floor for the boys final.

Homestead, while struggling in some areas, have shown that they can hang with teams of the traditional run and gun, get up and go culture of the SAC with their wins over Wayne and Snider this week. Johnson, their coach of 18 years, is a man of pace. His job will be to control North Side’s tempo similar to the way that DeKalb attempted to do earlier this year with significantly lesser personnel.

It helps that Jack Ferguson is the ultimate pacesetter, one of the few guys in the conference that can handle the ball and the speed of the game no matter how fast, slow or moderate the game is needed to be.

Ferguson, Parker Manges and Brandon Durnell hold the argument that they are the conference’s best trio and it is going to take a supreme effort from anyone to contain all of them at once. After all, there is a reason why they remain the league’s only unbeaten team. And after they isolated Snider’s giant, Williams, enough to get by the Panthers, there are parts of ol’ Shooter that say they could do the same with North’s Jaylen Butz.

But there are other parts of me that scream that nobody in the conference can replicate the one-two punch of Butz and Keion Brooks Jr., as seen on full display during Wednesday’s semi-final against Bishop Luers.

This is the final that Shooter predicted out of the semi-finals that Shooter predicted, which is shocking in and of itself. But it is a game that will be won or lost on the interior I do believe, where an edge goes to North Side, but Homestead is always methodically good.

On the girls side, Homestead is where they were expected but let’s just say not without having to put in maximm effort. Wednesday’s semi-final was an eye opener when the Spartans squeaked (as close as they’ve ever had to “squeak” in the SAC) by Snider. For Carroll, it is not a long shot for them to be in the finals but one they didn’t come by easy. Redding showed himself to be still among conference elite coaches with wins over a game Bishop Dwenger and a defensive stopping power in Concordia.

The Spartans and the Chargers have already met and that 76-53 game 27 days ago was as lopsided as any have been for the Spartans. Carroll has extreme depth with Becca Villanueva, Laney Steckler, Kelli Damman and Julia Miller up front, but the argument could be made that they not-so-senior laden team is still a year away from their full potential. Meanwhile, just like with the boys from their school, Homestead has that arguably top threesome with Karissa McLaughlin, Madisen Parker and Jazmyne Geist. Though the argument against the girls holding that title is probably significantly weaker.

McLaughlin herself is looking to make some history, sitting just 24 points behind Canterbury alum Kindell Fincher as the fourth best scorer in the area’s history.

While Shooter still fully expects this to be another crowning achievement for McLaughlin and company, Wednesday’s scare should show them that while you can’t be too careful, you can’t be too careless either. Because even though seedings have held mostly true, any given team can find their way to cutting down the nets at Wayne High School tonight and seizing control of the conference.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Shooter at nssports@news-sentinel.com

More Information

Boys
Wednesday’s semifinals
North Side 70, Bishop Luers 54
Homestead 64, Snider 59

Tonight’s championship
North Side vs. Homestead 8:15 p.m.

Girls
Wednesday’s semifinals
Homestead 59, Snider 52
Carroll 56, Concordia Lutheran 47

Tonight’s championship
Homestead vs. Carroll, 4 p.m.

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