Cloverleaf's Nate Riley shoots over Norton's Phillip Wallace during the second quarter. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)
WESTFIELD TWP. — Boys basketball is officially back at Cloverleaf High School.
Buoyed by a jam-packed Colt Corral student section and plenty of other raucous fans, Cloverleaf won for the seventh time in its last eight games Friday, defeating big-time rival Norton 57-47 in Portage Trail Conference Metro Division play.
The Colts (10-5, 6-3) now have 10 victories in a season for the first time since 1987-88, which was also the last time the program had a winning season. Cloverleaf can guarantee a plus-.500 finish with two victories in the eight guaranteed games it has remaining, but a much bigger goal remains very much in the picture.
The Colts are now tied for second place in the Metro Division, two games back of league-leading Woodridge, which hosts Cloverleaf next Friday. In a division that is extremely balanced, a win over the Bulldogs would give the Colts a chance at winning or sharing their first league title since 1983-84.
“Our goals have changed in the last couple weeks,” Cloverleaf coach Jack Banks said. “First, we didn’t want to be the doormat. We got that taken care of and started winning some games. Now you look up in the standings and we’ve got an opportunity to win the league.”
Norton (7-5, 6-3) had been alone in second place in the Metro, but the Panthers didn’t lead over the final 20:49 in losing to the Colts for the second time this season.
Long-limbed, 6-foot-6 sophomore small forward Nate Riley led Cloverleaf with 15 points, junior point guard Brycen Holliday had 14, junior sixth man Matt Tanko had nine, junior center Sylar Jones had eight and junior shooting guard Cruz Seversen had four points, four rebounds and a game-high five assists, but the Colts’ most important player against Norton was power forward Nick Bailey, the only senior in the team’s seven-man rotation.
Just 6-1, the long-haired, bespectacled Bailey blue-collared his way to seven points, nine boards and two assists while providing his team with plenty of energy and other intangibles against Norton’s aggressive man-to-man defense.
“We’ve got a lot of talent in our sophomore and junior classes,” he said. “I’m just up here working as hard as I can. I haven’t been strictly a basketball player, but when it’s November to February, I’m giving 100 percent to the sport.”
After falling behind 7-2 midway through an ugly first quarter, the Colts went up 16-14 on a Riley bucket and made it 19-14 midway through the second period on the first of two Tanko 3-pointers.
Cloverleaf’s lead was seven at intermission and 10 after three periods — Norton went 0-for-10 from the field and 10-for-14 at the line in that quarter — before a Riley free throw made it an 11-point game with 6:50 to go.
The Panthers ended up missing their first 11 shots of the second half before point guard Tyler Scott (15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) scored on a drive with 6:45 left.
Norton, which got 19 points and eight boards from center Phillip Wallace, got as close as five on two occasions, the last with 1:22 to go, but the Colts have progressed to the point where they now know how to close games.
“It feels fantastic,” Riley said. “We’re starting to bring notice to Cloverleaf. When we have a big crowd, we’re already up 10. They’ve got to beat us and our crowd. Let’s just keep packing the stands and getting the ‘W.’
“We’re no longer the team where everyone goes, ‘They’re going to blow it.’ We’ve got experience and we have everyone capable of making the right play.”
With their first winning season in 31 years all but guaranteed, the Colts are now setting their sights on challenging for — and possibly winning or sharing — the Metro title.
“If we play to our ability, anything’s possible,” Bailey said. “I’ve been here four years, and it’s a completely different program from my freshman year. It’s so nice to be a part of it, because you can see the energy and teamwork. It feels phenomenal.”
Contact Rick Noland at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.
Cloverleaf 57, Norton 47
NORTON 10 11 10 16 — 47
CLOVERLEAF 10 18 13 16 — 57
Norton — Dominick Reinhart 1-2-5, Nate Dobben 1-1-3, Phillip Wallace 6-5-19, Collin Lucas 1-0-3, Tyler Scott 5-5-15, Peyton Villers 0-0-0, Ryan Caulk 0-0-0, Larry Harper 1-0-2, Alex Nye 0-0-0. TOTALS: 15-13-47.
Cloverleaf — Nate Riley 4-6-15, Nick Bailey 2-3-7, Sylar Jones 2-4-8, Cruz Severson 1-2-4, Brycen Holliday 5-3-14, Matt Tanko 2-3-9, Tyler Webb 0-0-0. TOTALS: 16-21-57.
3-point goals — Wallace 2, Lucas, Reinhart, Tanko 2, Riley, Holliday. Rebounds — Norton 29 (Wallace 8), Cloverleaf 23 (Bailey 9). Assists — Norton 7 (Scott 3), Cloverleaf 13 (Severson 5). Records — Norton (7-5, 6-3), Cloverleaf (10-5, 6-3). Junior varsity — Norton 58, Cloverleaf 35.