HAMPSHIRE – Mark Skelley sealed Marian Central’s fate in Wednesday’s sectional semifinal. It wasn’t a clutch 3-pointer or a pair of free throws that clinched the victory for Sycamore, but rather a tiny defensive deflection. With Marian Central down by eight in the final minute, Skelley got his hand on an entry pass, changing the ball’s direction just enough that it ended up in the waiting hands of teammate Nick Feuerbach, who was subsequently fouled and made both free throws.
It’s the type of play Skelley has consistently made for the Sycamore boys basketball team this season as the Spartans prepare to face Rockford Lutheran in the Class 3A Hampshire Sectional final at 7 tonight.
“We had our hands full,” Sycamore coach Andrew Stacy said. “They can shoot it and [Marian Central point guard [Adam Pischke] can pass, drive and penetrate and create for himself and others and Mark Skelley really stepped up defensively and did a great job for us.”
Fellow senior starter Jake Winters calls Skelley a “gnat” and a “pest,” someone inserted into the lineup to bother opposing point guards and make their lives miserable for 84 feet.
It’s a role Sycamore featured last year as well. Skelley largely watched as twin brothers Curt and Kyle Buzzard were Sycamore’s defensive specialists at guard. After they graduated, it left the responsibility open for somebody else this season. Skelley gladly grabbed it.
“We scouted [Pischke] a lot. We knew he had deep range,” Winters said. “Mark’s obviously our best defender as a guard and we wanted to put him on it.”
Although Skelley now has secured his starting spot alongside Winters and fellow seniors Ben Niemann, Devin Mottet and Nick Feuerbach, it hasn’t been that way all year.
With Sycamore blessed with depth, often rotating 10-plus players each game, Stacy was afforded the option of switching up his starting lineup throughout the year.
Skelley went through a midseason funk. He never was required to average double-digit points in an offense blessed with so many scoring options, but he needed to be a threat on both ends of the floor.
“During the season, I just couldn’t make shots,” Skelley said. “I started taking more shots in the gym after practice and just tried to get more shots up.”
Wednesday, Skelley scored seven, including four in the fourth quarter with a pair of free throws in the final minute.
Both of his buckets came off layups, something that’s come more often as opponents refuse to help off Sycamore’s other options.
Skelley likely won’t lead Sycamore in scoring or rebounding tonight, but his presence will be hard to ignore, at least for Rockford Lutheran’s point guard.
“It just comes from wanting to win,” Skelley said. “Trying to win for this team, trying to win for this program. It’s fun.”
Tuesday’s semifinal Rockford Lutheran 76, Kaneland 61Wednesday’s semifinal Sycamore 58, Marian Central 48Today’s championship Sycamore vs. Rockford Lutheran, 7 p.m.