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Monday, January 30, 2023

Naperville North Eyeing More Success at Class 4A Hinsdale Central Sectional

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Like any self-aware team, Naperville North knows where its strength lies.

With the depth at its disposal, it’s easy to see why pushing the pace and tempo is a not so subtle secret to its success.

And that’s where the intrigue lies ahead of a third meeting this season with top-seeded Wheaton Warrenville South at the Class 4A Hinsdale Central Sectional.

Naperville North junior guard/forward Mitch Lewis (1) scores the go-ahead bucket against the Redhawks with less than a minute remaining in regulation in a 55-52 victory on Feb. 16, 2016.

“We’re just going to play our basketball and we’re going to need everything we have,” Huskies’ senior guard/forward Mitch Lewis said. “I mean – that’s what we always do.”

The program’s first regional title since 2006 now secured, the fourth-seeded Huskies (23-5) are looking for more despite suffering two regular-season losses to the Tigers (29-1).

And they’ll do it behind a group that’s been led by a trio of three-year seniors – Lewis, Cam Hardy and Winston Elston.

“I think this is a really experienced group,” Naperville North coach Jeff Powers said. “I think they’ll be amped up enough to play hard, but that’s why they’ve been so good the last two years. Every year, they’ve gotten better and it’s because of experience and because they understand their roles. I think that’s going to happen on Tuesday night. They’re going to be excited. Heck yeah – they’re playing for a sectional.”

Lewis recorded his seventh 20-point game of the year in their 71-51 victory over 12th-seeded Addison Trail to claim the Class 4A Batavia Regional title.

While Lewis leads Naperville North with 14.7 points and 6.0 rebounds, junior center Chris Johnson has averaged 9.8 points and 4.5 rebounds.

Johnson, an unanimous All-DuPage Valley Conference pick alongside Lewis, has been limited to just 13 points combined in the two losses at the hands of the Tigers.

Naperville North sophomore center Chris Johnson contests a shot against Neuqua Valley in a 64-49 victory on Feb. 12, 2016.

“They’ve done a good job on him and they’ve made an emphasis to stop him from getting the ball,” Powers said. “In the third and fourth periods of the last game, they had everyone packed in and we missed shots that game. I think we’re just going to play the same way that we normally do. If we got a wide open shot, we’re going to knock it down this time.”

Helping matters inside has been the increased presence of 6-5 sophomore forward Tom Welch, who recorded a pair of double-digit scoring games over at Batavia.

If Wheaton Warrenville South decides to continue to key in on Johnson, Welch could be a definite mismatch.

“He’s really coming together,” Lewis said of Welch. “We’ve been kind of focusing in on I’m taking the ball up top and whenever I drive to the lane, he’s always there and they always forget about him. He’s just so big and long. All you got to do is just throw it up around him and he’ll catch it and he’ll lay it in.”

Can Naperville North force Wheaton Warrenville South to play at its tempo, as opposed to the 43-42 and 38-35 scores in the first two games?

The answer to that question may lie in regards to forcing turnovers and increasing the number of possessions.

“They hold the ball for 50 seconds,” Lewis said of the Tigers. “I guess in high school, you can get away with that. But, yeah, they take it to their advantage that there’s no shot clock and they hit threes and everything. But we’ve lost to them twice with a combined total of four points.”

Naperville North junior Mitch Lewis leads the Huskies in transition against Lake Park.

Already with a pair of seasons with at least 23 wins, a victory moves the Huskies to the brink of their first sectional title since 1998.

But that means little if they don’t come out on top on Tuesday.

“I think pretty much it’s the same old with us – we got to figure out a way to win Wheaton Warrenville South and we’re not even thinking any farther than that,” Powers said. “Once we get done with them, then we’ll put our best effort into the next game.”

Blake Baumgartner
Blake Baumgartner
Raised in Naperville, Blake Baumgartner is a 2001 Naperville Central alumnus and a 2005 graduate of Michigan State's School of Journalism. Since March 2010, he has covered football, boys' basketball and baseball for both The Naperville Sun and Positively Naperville. Follow him on Twitter @BFBaumgartner.

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