The big game is even bigger this time.
The crosstown matchup between Oswego and Oswego East always carries plenty of excitement and emotion, but the stakes will be raised in this edition Friday at East.
That's because the Wolves (18-6, 6-0) and Panthers (15-8, 5-1) come in the two top teams in the Southwest Prairie Conference, with three games remaining. It's been a while since the regular-season game between the rivals meant so much.
"It will make for a fun night," Oswego coach Chad Pohlmann said, "and that's what it should be. That's why you work hard in the offseason and conditioning, to set yourself up for this."
Pohlmann's Panthers lost to Oswego East 67-49 in a non-conference game back on Dec. 20, but have caught fire since.
Oswego, 9-3 since, picked up a huge road win last Friday, beating Romeoville 55-50. Panthers' 6-foot-9 post Connor McCance had 15 points, eight rebounds and eight blocks in that one. Oswego lost to Waubonsie Valley on Wednesday.
"We're sharing the ball well on offense – our assist to turnover ratio has been off the charts," Pohlmann said. "Jack [Kahoun] gets a lot of credit as a shooter, but he also is a great defender and did a good job on their best guy, Dylan [Engler] did a great job defensively and on the glass, Connor had a big game protecting the rim and guys like Joey Niesman, he got his hands on two balls on the offensive glass that ended up being points for us. Doing those little things help you win."
Oswego East is coming off a tough loss to York at the Ernie Kivisto Shootout – but Ray J Dennis and the Wolves have been very good at home, and in conference.
Fast starts fueled home SPC wins against Romeoville and Joliet Central in January, and also the first meeting with Oswego.
"We just feel more confident when we set the tone early," said Wolves coach Ryan Velasquez. "We have two really quality opponents coming up this weekend, with Oswego and Waubonsie Valley [Saturday night]. The first priority is Oswego. We have to be ready and expect their best effort."
Dennis, a Boise State recruit averaging close to 25 points per game, scored 17 points and Sam Schultz 16 in the first meeting. Engler led Oswego with 15. The Wolves built a 17-point lead in the first half, saw Oswego cut it to two, but then ran away in the fourth quarter. Demari Grant, expected back in the Wolves' lineup after missing last weekend, scored eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.
"They're really good, and they have a lot of tough matchups," Pohlmann said. "Ray J is one of those guys that mentally he always stays in the game, it makes it hard to take him out of things. Their transition game is really good and they're super athletic."
The crosstown girls game will be played at 5 p.m., followed by the boys at 6:30 p.m.
"I can't remember in the last few years where it had the high stakes of this game, this late in the year," Velasquez said. "It should be a great environment."