By: John Nee '93
Saturday officially ended the fall sports season, one of the most successful in the history of St. Rita, with the football , soccer, and cross country teams all reaching levels of success that few teams before them had ever reached in Mustang sports history.
It was an exciting Thanksgiving week around St. Rita as the varsity football team prepared for the state championship game played at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb on Saturday. This year's team became only the third football team in St. Rita history to advance to the title game since 1974 when the Chicago Catholic League officially joined the IHSA playoff field, joining the 1978 5A and 2006 7A state championship teams.
Unfortunately, the Mustangs ran into a buzz saw in the 5A state title game as the 8-time state champion Rochester Rockets proved their worth in the 5A field after a decade of dominance at the 4A level with a convincing 42-28 win over St. Rita.
Rochester struck early taking their opening drive 75 yards for a touchdown putting the young Mustangs on their heels. The Rocket lead would eventually grow to 21-0 midway thru the second quarter before sophomore quarterback Tommy Ulatowski ran for a 22-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-7.
The Rockets would then convert on two third-and-longs on their next drive scoring late in the half to go into the locker room with a 28-7 lead.
St. Rita received the second half kickoff with a chance to change momentum back into their favor, but a quick three-and-out all but dashed the Mustangs' hopes for an epic comeback victory as Rochester would build a 42-7 lead in the fourth quarter.
The 2019 team, who showed unbelievable mettle all season long clawing their way back into the playoffs after a difficult 1-3 start to the season, once again proved their resolve as junior quarterback Brian Johnson led St. Rita to three fourth quarter touchdown drives, a Kaleb Brown touchdown pass to senior captain Nick Adent and two Johnson touchdown runs, as the Mustangs ended things the right way fighting to the finish in the 42-28 defeat.
The varsity basketball team began the Roshawn Russell era with a Thanksgiving tournament championship at Riverside-Brookfield. The Mustangs, who came into the season unheralded and unranked, went 4-0 in the tournament securing the title with a thrilling 71-70 win over Morton in the championship game played Saturday afternoon.
The "Running" Mustangs opened the tournament last Monday with a 53-52 win over Kenwood. Senior guard Alec Millender (Wayne St. signee) led the way with 15 and senior forward Connor Serven added 14 points and 10 rebounds in the season-opening win.
On Wednesday St. Rita stormed out of the gate blitzing Proviso West in the first half to take a 41-19 lead into the halftime locker room before settling for a dominating 73-53 win as junior guard Christian Henry led the way with a game-high 23 points as Serven once again provided a double-double for the second consecutive game adding 14 points and 15 rebounds.
On Friday the Mustangs got off to a post-Thanksgiving sluggish start as they led Urban Prep-Englewood 25-23 at half before rallying in the second half to claim a 65-46 win to advance to the championship game. Henry again led the St. Rita offense posting a double-double of his own with 19 points and 12 rebounds, and freshman Kaiden Space chipped in with 13 points.
In Saturday's championship game against Morton, who advanced by beating previously ranked Oak Park-River Forest and Riverside-Brookfield, the Mustangs would fall behind early trailing by as many as 14 in the second quarter before a furious rally late in the half cut the halftime deficit to 43-38.
A back-and-forth third quarter ended with Morton leading 58-56 heading into the fourth, but a late clutch steal by senior Alec Millender sealed a Mustang victory as they defeated Morton 71-70 to capture the title.
Tournament MVP Christian Henry led the offense with 18 points while senior Connor Serven posted his third double-double of the season scoring 15 and adding 10 rebounds. Seniors Serven and Millender would join Henry on the all-tournament team as the Mustangs cracked the NBC Sports Chicago top 25 with their impressive 4-0 start. They will play their home opener tonight in a Catholic League crossover against St. Ignatius at 7pm, and they will travel to 99th street on Friday evening to battle rival Brother Rice at 7pm.
The varsity hockey team played in the always-tough Loyola Thanksgiving tournament going 1-2 with their lone win a 4-3 decision over Maine. The varsity hockey team will return to action this Thursday as they host Benet Academy 7:55 at SIA.
Check back next week as we once again recap the week in St. Rita winter sports action including an update on our wrestling team and new head coach John Anderson.