CRYSTAL LAKE – The hooting and hollering from the basement locker room of the Crystal Lake Central boys basketball team could be heard all the way in the gymnasium.
No one could fault the Tigers for their loud celebration. Before Monday night against Woodstock, Central had walked off the basketball court 20 times without a win. But the Tigers always believed it was a matter of when, not if, they would get that elusive first victory of the season. That moment finally arrived against the Blue Streaks.
Junior guard Cavanagh Murphy scored a game-high 21 points, including 18 in the second half, and senior guard Kenny Vesely made two clutch free throws in the final seconds to secure Central’s 45-41 Fox Valley Conference Fox Division victory.
“I knew we were only up by two and that those were very important free throws,” Vesely said. “They just had to go in, and I knew they were going in as soon as I shot them.”
Central coach Rich Czeslawski said, as the losses mounted, he wasn’t sure if he would feel relieved when his team finally won its first game. After Monday’s win, Czeslawski was proud of his team, though he isn’t content and wants his team to keep playing at this level.
“I’m excited because they deserve it,” Czeslawski said. “At the start of the year, we had some things happen internally where we didn’t deserve success. We just didn’t, and the players know exactly what I’m talking about, but we’ve built over the last month in particular. We deserve it. We deserve to win some games now.”
The Tigers (1-20 overall, 1-8 FVC Fox) led by as many as six points in the fourth quarter and closed out the win by hitting 6 of 9 free throws in the fourth. Woodstock (8-12, 3-3) briefly took a one-point lead with 6:24 left in the third quarter, but the Tigers immediately responded on consecutive 3-pointers by Vesely and Murphy to put them ahead, 23-18.
The Blue Streaks were able to cut Central’s lead to two points by the end of the third quarter, even without junior and leading scorer Damian Stoneking, who finished with four points. The 6-foot-7 center was on the bench for the entire third quarter after picking up a technical foul 21 seconds before halftime.
Woodstock coach Al Baker gave no comment on the decision to not play him. Fortunately for the Blue Streaks, sophomore forward Zach Cullum delivered much-needed scoring.
“He’s really done a good job,” Baker said of Cullum. “He came up and started playing with us in December, and we’ve been really proud of the effort he puts forth whenever he’s on the floor.”
Cullum scored a team-high 15 points, eight of which came in the third quarter to help Woodstock stay in the game. Woodstock had a chance to tie or win the game with 14 seconds left.
But the Blue Streaks turned over the ball trying to dribble into the lane, and Central’s Vesely knocked down the pair of free throws with three seconds left to end Woodstock’s hopes. Woodstock’s shot chart showed it missed 18 shots in the paint. Combined with a 10 for 24 performance at the free-throw line, the Blue Streaks didn’t help themselves.
“It felt amazing,” Murphy said of the win. “We played together and gave it all we have. We just put four quarters together for one of the first times. ... We’re all pretty close together so we deal with adversity.”