WESTMONT – Westmont’s basketball team is earning its stripes in more ways than one.
Friday’s 71-50 rout of Coal City on Friday gave the Sentinels (8-2, 3-1 Interstate Eight) five wins in a row. And Westmont players’ successful impact on the basketball court is going beyond varsity games.
Ten Sentinels players complement their playing talents by working as referees for Westmont Park District youth league games.
“I think it’s great for them because they see a different aspect of the game,” Westmont coach Craig Etheridge said. “It gives them a whole different perspective, it’s great PR for our basketball program, and it’s great social skills learning to communicate with the parents and also the kids that are on the court.
“I really encourage our kids to be involved in that.”
Stars of the win over Coal City like Michael Thompson, who had 19 points and three assists, Matt O’Leary (12 points, six assists), Alex Pietrzak (12 points), Caden Anderson (11 points, five rebounds, two steals) and sophomore Ben Juska (nine points) are part of a legion of Sentinels who trade their on-court feats for a whistle and striped shirt.
“Probably half the team referees kindergarten to maybe fifth grade [games],”Thompson said. “It’s good to give back to the community, and it’s a lot of fun."
Heroes to budding area players one night, the players provide help for the next generation of Westmont basketball as they learn the game.
“For the younger kids, they travel a lot so you kind of have to adjust the call,” Thompson said. “The older kids if they travel, we have to call it.”
As players, Westmont’s squad is traveling to lofty heights of late.The Sentinels are unbeaten in December, with the last four victories in the five-game streak coming by double digit margins.
“We started off a little slow this season,” Thompson said, “but we’ve put an emphasis on defense these last few games.”
That showed against Coal City, as Westmont held the Coalers to 3-of-15 field goal shooting in the first quarter and 15-of-43 for the game.
Down 3-0 early, the Sentinels went on a 15-0 run over the next 4:30 to take command. A Pietrzak basket 1:20 in put Westmont up for good 4-3, and an Anderson three-pointer capped the surge. The Sentinels hit their first six field goal tries of the game, and 24 of 44 for the night.
The hot shooting included 8-for-12 in the second quarter, when a 15-7 lead after one grew to 36-11 at the half.
“I think the first half was the best we’ve played for a half this year,” Etheridge said. “We executed most of the things we worked on this week. We had emphasized trying to run a couple different sets and they worked well.
“We were getting good looks, and that gave our guys a little bit of confidence. We hit jump shots, pressured the ball and got some steals and run outs.”
Four scorers in double figures led the charge.
“Michael had a real nice game,” Etheridge said. “I tell my guys all the time, we have seven guys that legitimately can start for any team in our conference.
“On any given night we hope three of them have a good night for us, and if that happens we can win. Tonight I thought we had more than three.”