Some would say Jack Martinus was the unsung hero of this game.
Loyola Academy head coach Tom Livatino saw it differently. He took it a step farther.
“Jack was the Player of the Game,” said the LA coach, following his team’s 43-36 win over Highland Park in the semifinal round of the Class 4A Zion-Benton Regional on Feb. 28.
“He gave us some big-time minutes tonight,” Livatino added. “He stabilized us.”
The 6-foot-1 Martinus, better known for his pass-catching abilities for the LA football team, was thrown into the mix, when LA standout Ramar Evans went down with a leg injury with 4:32 left in the third quarter.
“I didn’t feel any pressure,” said Martinus, head shaved along with all of his teammates. “But when Ramar went down, I felt like I had to step up.”
In the final four minutes of the contest, Martinus managed to come up with two steals.
“I was just trying to contribute in any way possible. You just give it all you got,” Martinus said. “Coach always talks about emptying the tank.”
Then, in the final 50 seconds of the game, Martinus hit the front ends of two double bonuses.
You might say that it was his night, when his very first attempt rattled around for a while before falling through. It had “miss” written all over it.
“Oh my God,” said Martinus. “Whatever way possible. As long as the ball goes in. That’s all you need.”
In contrast, there was very little doubt with Matt Lynch’s tosses. He locked the win up for LA (21-8) by going 6-for-6 from the foul line in the final 2:18 of the game.
“Matt’s pretty incredible,” said Martinus. “You can always count on him.”
Matt Sechman and Julian DeGuzman also made it count for the Ramblers. Sechman arguably had the best game of his varsity career: 13 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 block.
DeGuzman finished with 10 points and four rebounds.
Meanwhile, Livatino knew that Highland Park — a 13th seed — would be a difficult matchup for his fourth-seeded Ramblers.
“After we went up 10-0 in the first quarter, the rest of the game definitely was a struggle for us,” said Livatino. “And the way they played had a lot to do with that.
“They’re a young team,” the LA coach added. “They’re a team which is going to do a lot of damage next year.”
Falling behind 10-0 certainly was burdensome for these never-quit Giants (15-14), who trailed the entire way.
However, HP made things interesting in the late going. Ziv Tal scored nine of his 10 points in the final quarter. He cut LA’s lead to five points, 34-29, with 2:27 left in regulation by converting a three-shot foul.
Then, with 14 seconds left on the scoreboard, Tal sank a long three-pointer from the left wing to make it a three-point game. But the Giants could get no closer.
Senior forward Jack Zeidler (10 points) also came up big for the Giants. He scored on back-to-back possessions in the waning minutes to keep his team in firing distance.
“I thought we showed who we are tonight,” said HP head coach Paul Harris. “This team never quits. They were really fun to coach.”
Harris tipped his hat to the Ramblers.
“We’ve played a pretty good schedule,” he said. “And I would say they’re as good a defensive team as we’ve faced all year.
“They are just so sound,” added Harris. “They don’t make mistakes.”
Loyola Game Balls: Matt Sechman, Matt Lynch
Highland Park Game Balls: Jack Zeidler, Ziv Tal
Player of the Game: Sechman
Unsung Hero: LA’s Jack Martinus
LA Stat Leaders: Sechman (13 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block), Lynch (8 points, 6-6 FT, 4 rebounds, 3 assists), Julian DeGuzman (10 points, 4 rebounds), Kevin Cunningham (5 points, 3 assists), Ramar Evans (2 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals)
HP Stat Leaders: Zeidler (10 points, 5 rebounds), Tal (10 points, 3 rebounds), Daniel Michelon (5 points), Noah Shutan (4 points, 3 assists), Tyler Gussis (4 rebounds), Luke Zemelis (2 rebounds, 2 steals)
Notable: Ramar Evans watched half of the third quarter and all of the fourth quarter with his right leg stretched out on the bench. It’s unknown if he will be able to play in Friday night’s championship game at Zion-Benton High School. “We’re a resilient group. But [not having him on the court] is problematic,” said LA head coach Tom Livatino.