HC wins first championship at HCHC

Boys basketball team nets first title at tournament it has hosted for eight years

The Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic boys basketball tournament over winter break is also know as HC squared.

The varsity Red Devils took it to another power last month, winning the title in the tourney, which dates back to 2015, for the first time in program history.

Varsity head coach Nick Latorre said winning the championship was not a goal the team had set.

"We just try to play our best and play unselfishly and play really hard and however it works out is what we live with," he said. "We played well and we played really good teams all the way through."

Central beat Oak Forest (71-52), Homewood-Flossmoor (69-59) and Marion Catholic (44-27) en route to the final game against Oswego East.

The team was excited to take on the Wolves, senior guard Ben Oosterbaan said.

"We lost in triple overtime to them in the semifinals of the tournament last year and we lost to them in both Thanksgiving tournaments," he said. "We were definitely excited that was the last time we were going to face them and we wanted to get the last laugh."

Central did, winning 54-41.

Oosterbaan, named the Justin Hardy MVP of the tournament, played outstanding defense, his coach said.

"Most impressive was the way he rebounded the ball, and I think he had seven or eight assists in one of the games," Latorre said. "He was a stalwart defender and along the glass. That was the key, the way we guarded and rebounded and took care of the ball."

Oosterbaan said it felt great to be named MVP but was quick to credit his teammates' efforts as well.

"I didn't have a great game in the championship and they picked me up," Oosterbaan said. "It felt deserving, but they really had my back there."

Chase Collignon also demonstrated great leadership, his coach said.

"He defended the other teams' top players and he was rebounding the heck out of it and showed great leadership. He had a really nice tournament," Latorre said.

Being named All-Tournament felt amazing, the senior forward said.

"All the hard work paid off since I've been in fourth grade playing Inferno (travel basketball) with these guys," Collignon said. "Through the whole tournament, the whole team played tremendous defense - the best defense."

On the offensive side, senior guard Emerson Eck had a great game against Oswego.

"I think he made five threes," Latorre said. "He was also really tough on the glass the entire week. We were kind of waiting for him to have a breakout shooting game, and he had one in the championship. It was nice to see."

Eck also received All-Tournament honors.

"That felt pretty good - especially after we won - to get the honor. It was nice," he said. "I shot well (against Oswego) and thought the whole team played well to get the win."

Evan Phillips, with only two turnovers in four games, was "off the charts good," Latorre said.

"I think just winning the championship was a blast," the senior guard said. "I've been going to that tournament since I've been in elementary school, watching Central play."

Latorre also noted the play of Billy Cernugel, and Pat Graham, who scored 15 points against H-F.

Cernugel, a senior forward, said having great home crowds really affects the team's play.

"It's a huge difference," he said. "You feel the energy throughout the gym. A big 3 at home vs. away, it's a lot different. You have to give credit to our bench as well. When they bring the energy, our team just plays a different style."

Graham, a senior guard, appreciated being the first Central team to win the title.

"We came close last year, making it to the semifinals," he said. "It was cool winning it, because the whole town got to experience it for the first time."

Latorre credited all his players for making a difference, whether they were on the court or on the bench.

"It was a really good team effort all the way through," he said. "We had 20 guys on the roster contributing."

Latorre said he always enjoys the holiday tournament.

"it's a fun time of year because the prep leading into the tournament is hectic and the kids are super busy with getting ready for finals, and then it's kind of a nice relief to just focus on playing," he said. "I like it for that - it's just basketball."

Eck praised tournament manager Joe Spagnolo for his part in creating a great experience for the teams.

"Everything outside of the games is perfectly run by Coach Spagnolo and the rest of the crew at Hinsdale Central," he said. "It was run so professionally by Coach Spags that it felt like we actually won something big."

Winning the title should give the team confidence moving through the rest of the season, Latorre noted.

"It's at least proven to our guys that we're capable of playing at that level," he said. "If we can sustain that level of play, it sets us up. You've got to continue to work hard to play at that level. That's our focus going into the new year."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean