ADDISON – In a season that was already filled with what if moments, Addison Trail was forced to play its playoff opener without leading scorer James Pupillo.
The result was a 52-44 loss to North Lawndale in a regional quarterfinal on Monday.
Pupillo sat out the game with a back injury that had been bothering him for the past month.
“He’s been playing the last month at about a 60 percent clip,” AT coach Brendan Lyons said. “He’s been trying to tough it out. It just got to the point where he was in a lot of pain and we decided last week it was just time to shut it down and let him get healthy.”
Without Pupillo, the host Blazers, the No. 16 seed in the Bartlett sectional, hung with the No. 17 Phoenix for about two-and-a-half quarters before a 21-2 run gave North Lawndale a 45-25 lead. The Phoenix led 22-21 at halftime.
AT senior guard Ronald Duling led a comeback attempt in the fourth quarter by scoring 10 points as part of a 17-1 Blazer run as they got within 50-44 in the final minute, but it wasn’t enough. Duling finished with 20 points. The Blazers ended the season 11-18.
“We thought we’d be the flip of that coming into this year,” Lyons said. “I just think for our kids and our program and where they’re at, there’s one thing about all of them – they’re good students. They’re good people and they set a good example for our lower level kids in the program.”
Pupillo, a four-year varsity player that was an West Suburban Gold all-conference guard this season, has multiple Division III programs vying for his skills. Fellow seniors Ronald Duling, also all-conference, and Joe Villasenor are chasing the college dream as well. Joe Kurucar will play baseball at Elmhurst College.
It’s a group of seniors that helped push the program forward. The season highlights included wins over Stagg, which was undefeated at the time, and Morton, the first time the Blazers beat the Mustangs in Lyons’ tenure.
“I can’t say enough about our seniors,” Lyons said. “They put in more than any group that I’ve had. I don’t want to say they turned everything around for us because I think we’ve been doing that, we’ve been getting better year-by-year, but they’re definitely going to be a group I miss.”
Juniors Taylor White and Matt Gontarek saw plenty of action this season and will be joined by a younger group next year that headed up an 18-9 sophomore team for the Blazers.
“Even though we graduate a lot I still think we have good days ahead of us,” Lyons said. “It will definitely have a new feel to it. I’m going to have to get used to not having James around. It’s kind of become second nature.”