Boys produced magic

Bryan Veginski
Contributions recognized: Washington boys basketball player Brian Tigue, a senior, was named second-team all-Mid-Illini Conference for the second year in a row. Tigue is one of five Panthers who will graduate from a 22-4 team.

The Washington boys basketball season ended earlier than in the recent past, but the year overall was quite rewarding.

The Panthers were 22-4 overall, including a 14-game winning streak, and 12-1 in the Mid-Illini Conference.

The 20-win season and league championship were the fifth straight for Washington in both categories.

Although the Panthers did not win a regional title for the first time since 2003-04, they made great strides to become one of the top-ranked teams in the state.

Washington, coming off a fourth-place trophy in the inaugural Illinois High School Association Class 3A state final a year ago, was No. 3 in the final Associated Press state poll of ’08-09.

The Panthers played three sophomores for stretches this season, but still navigated a challenging schedule.

“I think we saw a lot of improvement in our kids,” WCHS head coach Kevin Brown said.

Although a 46-44 loss March 6 to Morton in the 3A Washington Regional final was disappointing, it is the kind of result that happens sometimes in the unpredictable postseason.

“All you can take care of is preparing yourself,” said Brown.

The Potters’ size hampered the Panthers, and the No. 1 seed had a tough shooting night. Plus, Morton made clutch plays when it needed them.

A 71-54 M-I setback Dec. 9 at Metamora served as a turning point.

“Overall, how we responded to that loss,” Brown cited as a general highlight of the year the way the team regrouped.

After that night in Woodford County, Washington won 19 of its next 20 contests.

The lone loss in that span came at the Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament, which also was a springboard.

With Dec. 30 wins over Chicago Mt. Carmel (quarterfinals) and Richwoods (semifinals), Brown said of the Panthers, “We knew we could compete.”

Senior point guard Dyricus Simms-Edwards completed a standout two-year career with Washington.

He came in this year as the best player and Brown said Simms-Edwards was among the team’s most improved players.

Simms-Edwards played the entire 26-game schedule with a broken wrist, but did not miss a beat in games or on the practice floor.

“I was pretty happy with how he competed,” Brown said of Simms-Edwards, who will have a procedure performed this spring and is expected to make a full recovery in about six weeks.

Simms-Edwards averaged a team-best 18 points, five rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. His 50 steals also paced the team.

He shot a remarkable .532 from the floor and a sturdy .748 from the free-throw line generating more than five attempts per game.

Simms-Edwards still has plenty of Division I suitors seeking his backcourt talents and he soon will intensify the search process.

Ben Worner, a senior guard, nearly doubled his scoring average this year as the Panthers’ second go-to-player.

In the set offense, a lot of the plays went right to Worner, who plans to continue playing in college.

His skills increased in most facets, rounding into one of the better players in the area.

Worner tallied 14.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, made 35 steals and missed just one of his 21 free throws.

In shooting a robust .495 overall from the field, Worner excelled from three-point range, canning 43 percent of his tries (75-of-175).

Senior forward Brian Tigue was counted on for his leadership and Brown said he was very unselfish.

Tigue chipped in 6.3 ppg and his 4.3 rpg tied for second on the squad.

He was reliable at the line (.756) and from the floor (.520) and nabbed 31 steals.

Tigue had more than twice as many assists as turnovers.

Senior post Jake Weston, a captain, gave Washington incredible leadership, Brown said. Most of that occurred even when Weston was not on the floor.

Corey Sharp, a senior forward, played what Brown thought was his best basketball in the last three weeks. 

Sharp provided 3.3 ppg and 3.3 rpg while making 56 percent of his shots and contributing tough defense.

Junior post Colton Underwood also ranked as one of the team’s most improved players.

He supplied some leadership and, with his hard work, netted a lot of hustle baskets.

Underwood was a fabulous foul shooter (.827) while ranking second on the team in attempts.

He also made 58 percent of his shots from the field and chipped in 4.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

Junior Robert Izaguirre, and sophomores Mark Roth and Ryan Grebner, all guards, are among the returnees who could play key roles for Washington in ’09-10.

Izaguirre was third with 7.1 points per game in his 15 appearances.

Roth made 37 threes, second on the Panthers, and finished at 5.2 ppg.

Izaguirre and Grebner were among the players who fought injuries and getting them at full health for an entire year would be a boost.

Overall, Washington earned high marks for its accuracy from two-point range (.567), three-point range (.389) and at the line (.709).

When measured by effort, this season’s Panthers were equal to any Brown-coached team here.

“I’m real proud of the work ethic the kids have,” Brown said.

Even after collecting state hardware, Washington brought the same intensity into this campaign.

“The kids are workers and that didn’t change this year,” said Brown.

The Panthers’ schedule will have some differences in Brown’s sixth season.

Washington added a shootout game in Naperville and will play a fourth contest in the season-opening Tournament of Champions Classic.

The Panthers will aspire to add to their outstanding 120-25 overall and 64-5 conference marks over the last five years.