DARIEN — It's unusual to see a freshman on a boys varsity team. It's even rarer to see one start, and even rarer than that to see one playing down the stretch in a big game.
Joe Butler did that for the Minooka Indians on Wednesday, though, as he made two big defensive plays in the final minute to secure the Indians a 54-53 victory over Hinsdale South at the holiday tournament hosted by Hinsdale.
The first play came when Hornet senior guard Marcel Phillips elbowed Butler in the mouth, causing an offensive foul to be called with Minooka trialling 50-48.
"His defensive toughness to take an elbow to mouth and get back from it was incredibly gutsy," Minooka head coach Scott Tanaka said. "He was guarding one of Hinsdale South's best players and held him to single digits, which is impressive."
With possession of the ball, the Indians capitalized, as senior guard Jake Hogen drove all the way to the lane, made the layup and drew the foul. He made the free throw to give Minooka a 51-50 advantage.
On the next possession for Hinsdale, the Indians forced a turnover, and that's where Butler would make his next big play. With the ball loose, the freshman picked it up and then was fouled by the Hornets, which turned into a clear-path foul after discussion by the referees.
This gave the Indians two free throws plus the ball with 6 seconds left, all but securing the victory for Minooka.
"I just played hard and did what I needed to do for my team," Butler said. "It was nice to see results, although a little ugly."
"A huge amount of credit goes to Joe for helping us win this ball game," Tanaka added. "Very impressive of him to make two critical plays down the stretch to win us a basketball game."
Early on, the Indians were carried by their main three seniors — Hogen, Adam Holstine and Darrin Myers. The trio combined to score the team's first 23 points and 25 of the 27 total first half points. Hogen led all scorers at the half with 11 points, including three 3-pointers. Myers added eight while Holstine had six points for Minooka.
"As seniors we have experience playing varsity basketball so we know we can get shots that we're comfortable with," Myers said. "The experience we have of just playing basketball helped us early on."
Hinsdale South stayed strong with the Indians, though, as the Hornets kept on trading buckets with Minooka. After one quarter, Hinsdale actually had a 17-11 lead before the Indians battled back to within two points, 29-27, at intermission. Nine points from junior forward Larry Motuzis helped guide the Hornets to a halftime lead.
The third quarter, however, is where Myers would take over, scoring seven of his game high 22 points in the frame. His efforts gave Minooka a 39-37 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
"I was able to take advantage of my defender being slower than me on the pick and roll and trying to make good decisions off the screen," Myers said.
With the win, the Indians improve to 8-2 on the season and advance to play Stagg Thursday in the quarterfinals of the tournament. Tipoff set for 4:30 p.m. between the Indians and Chargers.