South Suburban College men and women head to NJCAA nationals
By Tony Baranek email@example.com March 15, 2013 9:20PM
South Suburban College men's basketball coach John Pigatti (left) and women's basketball coach Darrell Scott. | Supplied photo
Updated: April 18, 2013 6:09AM
In June 1991, South Holland gained the nickname “Title Town,” after Thornwood High School’s softball and baseball teams each won state titles on the same weekend.
This week, it has a chance to happen again.
South Suburban College, for the first time in its history, will send both its men’s and women’s basketball teams to the NJCAA Division II national tournament in the same season.
For the men, it will be the second appearance in a row and the fifth time in seven years under coach John Pigatti. The Bulldogs finished third in 2012.
Darrell Scott and the Lady Bulldogs will be making their fifth appearance at the national tournament. Their last was in 2005, when they finished eighth.
The men’s tournament is being held Tuesday through Saturday at Danville Community College. The women’s tourney is simultaneously being held at Illinois Central College in Peoria.
“It will be nice to throw a palm on the women’s program,” Pigatti said. “They get to feel some of the good stuff we’ve been feeling the past couple of years.”
Pigatti’s fifth-seeded Bulldogs (30-3), ranked seventh in the NJCAA Division II poll, will meet Phoenix College (20-12) in a first-round game at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. They earned their trip with a 91-72 victory March 9 over Kishwaukee College in the championship game of the Region IV-A tournament. T.F. South graduate Michael Lee led the way with 24 points and seven rebounds.
Lee (11.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Hillcrest alum Kadeem Thornton (11.9 ppg, 8.8) have had successful sophomore seasons in support of team statistical leaders Michael Harris (24.4 ppg) and Bruce Walker (15.5 ppg).
Marius Hopkins (Crete-Monee), Gary Evans Jr. (Crete-Monee) and Marquis Smith (Rich Central) also are Southland grads on the Bulldogs squad.
“Michael Lee has really come along as the season has gone on,” Pigatti said of the transfer from Lewis and Clark Junior College. “It took a little while for him to buy into some of things we do, but when he did he excelled the last month of the season.
“Thornton has been key for us experience-wise in being a sophomore who went through last year’s championship run.”
The run in 2012 ended with a victory in the third-place game, but the bigger — and bitter — memory for the Bulldogs, Pigatti said, was the semifinal vs. Community College of Rhode Island.
“We blew a 16-point lead with 11 minutes to go,” Pigatti said. “I don’t have any actual expectations about this year’s tournament, but what I do have is players who have had a taste of that semifinal loss. I know that, because of that, they really want to get back here and make amends.”
The 12th-seeded Lady Bulldogs (24-11) meet fifth-seeded Lake Michigan College (25-6) at 11 a.m. Wednesday. They advanced to the national tournament via a 55-39 regional title win March 9 over Prairie State College as Ashley Huddleston had 26 points, Megan Majors 14 points, Dorothy Taylor 11 rebounds and Georgetta Reid nine rebounds.
Huddleston (Rich Central) was chosen regional tournament MVP, while Shaquala Armstrong (Rich East) and Majors (T.F. South) also were named to the all-tournament team.
The Lady Bulldogs roster includes Southland players Sidnica Esco (Rich Central), Maryam Muhammad (Morgan Park), Ashlee Huff (T.F. South), Arianna Jackson (Seton), Breanna Perry (Bloom) and Reid, Taylor and Melissa Blanco (all Thornwood).
“I have a lot of new kids, but I was telling people last year that I thought this year would be good,” Scott said. “I just didn’t know how the talent would come together. You look at it on paper and say, ‘OK, we have a shooter, a scorer, we’re long and athletic and we should be able to defend.’ But when you get on the court, that’s when things get difficult.
“We played a tough schedule. Most of the teams we played were nationally ranked. But we gained a lot of experience during the course of the year.”
The Lady Bulldogs will be looking for revenge against their first-round foe. On Dec. 1, Lake Michigan College beat them 71-44.
“I think it got to a point in that game where the girls got behind by 10 or 12 and they started hanging their heads a little bit,” Scott said. “Lake Michigan smelled the blood in the water.
“We’re a completely different team now. I would say the biggest difference is our defense. To hold Prairie State to 39 points was huge. There is no one in this tournament that I am afraid of. I think we can play with anybody.”