By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
When the season started, many looked at a veteran Rockford Boylan Titans squad as the favorite for the NIC-10. They had size, athleticism, shooting and a lot of experience returning.
Then, one by one, their top players started falling. Drew Gaurke, then Frank Cimino, then Ben Grygiel all went down, causing concern for coach Mike Winters.
Against Rockford East, that trio was all back for the first time since Nov. 23. The Titans rode the excitement to 70 percent shooting in the first half and withstood a furious East comeback for a 75-65 win to pull a game back of first place.
“It’s great,” Grygiel said. “It reminds us of the Turkey Tournament when we played really well and played a different style getting up and down the floor. It’s more comfortable for all of us when we can get up and down the floor. We were all fired up for this game.”
The Titans hit their first few shots, but turnovers made it a bit of a slow start. Then, as their captain, Gaurke, came in for his first action in more than two months and hit a 3, Boylan was off to the races.
They hit their first 10 shots and 11 of their first 12. Brock Stull hit four 3-point shots in that run on his way to 27 points for the game.
“Offensively, the scary thing is that is what we are capable of in stretches,” Winters said of his team’s offensive outburst. “There are some things we have to work on going forward. But it’s nice to have everyone back on the floor.”
East did what they could to keep their tie of first place. The E-Rabs fell behind by as much as 20 points in the second quarter, but stormed to cut the lead to 5 late in the fourth quarter.
Star point guard Isaiah Box was saddled with foul trouble early, and was not able to help stave off the early Boylan charge. But from the point he returned on the floor late in the second quarter, he was on fire, finishing with 33 points, 24 in the second half before he fouled out.
“We relaxed a little bit,” said Winters when asked about nearly blowing a 20-point lead. “That and Isaiah is a heck of a player. He’s going to get his team back in the game.”
The Titans still sit a game behind Belvidere, who is in first place alone following the East loss and an earlier win over Rockton Hononegah. The Bucs will have to travel to Boylan before the season is over, meaning a healthy Boylan team controls their own NIC-10 fate.
That is even more impressive as Boylan has played much of the season without three starters. In that time, Stull has established himself as a potential MVP, and senior Demarcus Vines has elevated his game, making this a dangerous team going forward.
“If we have the opportunity to come back and stay in this conference race and steal a piece of it, it’s a team thing,” Winters said. “Everybody had to step up. It would have been really easy for us to pack up and go home, and guys kept fighting.”
From the Feb. 6-12, 2013, issue