WOODSTOCK – Since opening its doors for the first time in 2008, Woodstock North hasn't exactly been known for having a standout boys basketball program.
But the Thunder won their first regional title last season, and if they continue to give the same kind of effort they showed during their 59-32 Kishwaukee River Conference win over crosstown rival Woodstock on Friday night, they could be headed for more of the same this season.
North (9-5, 1-1 KRC) was relentless defensively from the opening tip, filling passing lanes, using a full-court press and making things miserable for the host Blue Streaks.
The Thunder chalked up 25 steals, part of Woodstock's 31 turnovers. Senior point guard Joe Chase had nine steals along with his eight points and three assists in front of a large, noisy crowd that seemed to fuel his team's fire.
"We try to bring this kind of intensity every night, but tonight was special," Chase said. "It's our crosstown rivalry. We've been playing these guys since we were little. Now that we're on the varsity level, we get to show out a little bit on a much bigger stage."
Chase was far from alone in his noteworthy effort defensively. Teammate Elijah Pena (game-high 16 points) also had six steals and made five of his final seven shots from the field. Sophomore guard Rex White (12 points, four offensive rebounds) had four steals off the bench.
As a team, the Thunder held Woodstock to 11-of-38 shooting (28.9%), and led by 17 points or more the entire second half.
"It's just nice to see the hard work from everyone starting to pay off," Chase said.
That hard work started during the offseason.
"These guys spent a ton of time improving their games over the summer," Thunder coach Dale Jandron said. "And that effort transitioned in to our practices as the season began. We've been doing a lot of competitive drills.
"This was an excellent team effort tonight. They ran a triangle-and-two defense on us to try and take our offense away. But our defense led to a lot of offense, especially in transition because of all the steals."
Justin Ortiz (eight points, two steals), Austin Zieman (seven points, two steals) and Javy Salas (five points, five boards) contributed to the win.
The Blue Streaks (2-14, 0-1) didn't allow the Thunder to make a field goal in the fourth quarter despite the lopsided final score.
Javier Garay-Vasquez had a team-best eight points, and Nicholas Weber pulled down 10 rebounds for Woodstock, which did some things it wanted to defensively, but to no avail. The Streaks also pulled down 11 offensive rebounds, but it only led to six second-chance points.
"Our game plan coming in was, we've gotta stop Chase and we've gotta stop [Cole] Brey," Woodstock coach Al Baker said. "Those were the two guys we were worried about. They scored 11 points combined. So we accomplished that goal. But Pena scored 16, and almost all of those points were in transition.
"We told ourselves, if we could slow them down and get them in a half-court offense, we'd be fine. And when we did that, we were just fine. There's things to build off of. They just did a real nice job pressuring us."
STAR OF THE GAME
Elijah Pena, Woodstock North, sr., SG
Pena scored 16 points, but his six steals were a key part of a valiant defensive effort by the Thunder.
7: Thunder players who had steals during Friday's game.
AND ANOTHER THING …
North got 17 points from its bench, led by sophomore guard Rex White, who had 12 points, four steals and four offensive rebounds.
Woodstock North 59, Woodstock 32
Woodstock North 18 18 20 3 – 59
Woodstock 10 6 7 9 – 32
Woodstock North (59)
Pena 7 1-2 16, White 5 2-2 12, Ortiz 3 2-3 8, Chase 4 0-0 8, Zieman 3 1-2 7, Salas 2 0-0 5, Brey 1 1-2 3, Spung 0 0-0 0, Trent 0 0-0 0, McConnell 0 0-0 0, Colwell 0 0-0 0, Zinn 0 0-0 0, Hill 0 0-0 0. Totals: 25 7-11 59.
Garay-Vasquez 2 3-4 8, Patterson 3 0-0 6, Weber 1 2-2 4, Conatser 1 1-4 3, Steponaitis 1 1-2 3, Betts-Moses 1 0-0 3, Adams 1 0-0 3, Archambeau 1 0-0 2, Zielinski 0 0-0 0, Ellegood 0 0-0 0, Vidales 0 0-0 0. Totals: 11 7-12 32.
3-point field goals: Woodstock 3 (Garay-Vasquez, Adams, Betts-Moses), Woodstock North 2 (Pena, Salas).
Total team fouls: Woodstock 13, Woodstock North 11
Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: None