CHANNAHON - Every coach has told their athletes at one time or another that if you work hard at your craft, some day it will pay off.
That was evident Friday as Minooka hosted Romeoville in a Southwest Prairie Conference contest as the Spartans' Destin Whitaker scored 37 points in a 68-53 victory.
Whitaker, a junior, scored 14 of the Spartans' 18 first quarter points and led 18-11. In the second quarter, Whitaker again outscored Minooka as he hit for 10 points to grab a 35-20 lead at the break. In the third quarter, he scored 11 more and had 35 and still led the Indians with the score at 53-33.
Whitaker did get some rest in the third quarter as he sat for about the final two minutes before the start of the fourth quarter. Then with 7:02 left in the game, he hit a jumper to give him his 37th point and then with three minutes left, he exited the game for good.
One the night, he hit five 3-pointers and made 10-of-13 free throws as he scored from all over the floor. Also scoring in double figures for the Spartans (15-7, 5-2) was Mike Salter, who finished with 10 points.
"I think in middle school I scored 40-some, but tonight I felt really good, my teammates knew I had the hot hand and they kept feeding me the ball," Whitaker said. "But this was a good overall game for us and that is what is important. We need to keep winning and get on a good path because of the seeding for the regionals coming up.
"I've been putting in so much work in the gym with extra shooting, getting in all the reps I can. I feel like I've lived in the gym the past few weeks, but it is paying off. Tonight was my night with the hot hand, but the good thing with this team is that it can be any of us on any given night."
According the Romeoville coach Marc Howard, the last big scoring night by a Spartan was three or four years ago when Matt Cappelletti hit for 38 in a double-overtime victory.
"Destin had the hot hand tonight and our team did a great job of finding him," Howard said. "I'm really happy for Destin because he has been working so hard on his game, especially the shooting. He has spent countless hours in the gym working and this team really embraced the moment tonight and played well.
"It was extremely important for us to come out and win tonight, especially not playing well last week. Tonight really was a team win and we played for each other. Our goal is still improve day-to-day and we still have a lot of room for improvement but we are heading in the right direction."
Minooka (5-18, 2-5) got 10 points from Carlos Hernandez while Adrian Gutierrez scored nine and Trent Hudak finished with seven points.
"We ran into a buzz saw tonight and he [Whitaker] went off early and never stopped," Minooka coach Kevin Cain said. "It just seemed to snowball on us and we knew he was one of their best. You can tell that he has worked to improve his game and I tip my cap to him tonight."
After a three by Hudak to open the game, the Indians didn't score again for four minutes, but only trailed 14-11 with 42 seconds left in the first quarter, however, that would be as close as they would get as Whitaker hit a three, was fouled and converted the four-point play to close out the first quarter.
"We have to figure out how not to get down early, because then we are chasing the rest of the game and that has been our story this year," Cain said. "We hung around early, then it got away from us. This is a learning experience because that will be the type of team we will play in the tournament early. We will have a play-in game then face a great team like that in the next round. We just have to figure out how to get the job done."