Nik Polonowski was a role player in Lyons’ memorable run to the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic final last year, but much has changed since then.
The 6-foot-6 senior became one of the area’s hottest prospects. Polonowski, whose dad played collegiately at Michigan State, committed to Pennsylvania in September. Polonowski is now the alpha male for a Lyons team that is one of two unbeatens in the field at York this week.
Some things have not changed, though.
“Obviously, same intentions as last year. We go in thinking we’re going to win it, hoping we’re going to win it, and playing as hard as we can to win it,” Polonowski said. “I think the success we had last year sets the bar high. We realize we can do this, we have done it, now let’s show them.”
The Lions are off to a good start.
Polonowski led four Lyons players scoring in double figures with 14 points, and the Lions overwhelmed Batavia in the middle two quarters for a 61-34 win in Monday’s first round of the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic.
Graham Smith added 12 points, Louis Kaminski 11 and Jackson Niego 10 for Lyons (8-0), which advanced to face Timothy Christian in the second round. The Lions last year made it all the way to the championship game before losing to Glenbard West.
The Lions are set up for a similar run this week, but veteran coach Tom Sloan isn’t taking anything for granted.
“We love playing at this tournament because it’s run so well and no matter what level of teams you come here with you’re going to play teams that make you better,” Sloan said. “Batavia, they’re good. We had to play well to get the outcome that what we got. Down the line it’s four or five games where you better show up or you’re going to get beat.”
Indeed, Batavia (3-8) hardly came out Monday like a team not willing to concede anything, much due to the hot shooting of CJ Valente. The 6-foot-5 junior scored eight of his 13 points in the first quarter, and made two of his three 3-pointers. Valente’s second one had Batavia within 13-10 with 1:47 left in the first quarter, but it would be the Bulldogs’ last points until another Valente three with 4:30 remaining in the half.
“He’s had a nice run. Obviously we need that, and then some,” Batavia coach Jim Nazos said. “I think he can give us that shooting. I believe he can be that consistent. He’s still coming into his own. He’s a junior that works hard.”
But Valente couldn’t slow down the onslaught of the Lions, which shut off Batavia’s offense and turned their defense into their own offense.
Lyons led 33-17 by halftime, Polonowski scoring 10 of his 14 points in the first half. Leading 39-26 midway through the third quarter, the Lions blew things wide open with a 16-0 run.
“It started on defense,” Polonowski said. “Once we shut down a couple of their plays we started to get open shots and good looks and stuff starts to flow automatically on offense.”
Lyons showcased balance throughout, but it all starts with the sweet-shooting Polonowski. He made both his 3-point attempts, a turnaround shot in the second quarter and a smooth baseline jumper during the 16-0 run.
“He’s not selfish, he plays within himself, and he’s a 6-6 athlete who can run and jump and shoot. That helps,” Sloan said. “He’s going to the basket more this year which is natural, and he has better range on his shot. He’s improved in all aspects.”
The Lions out-rebounded their opponents 28-11 and shot 58% for the game, and their transition from defense to offense was lethal for Batavia, which preferred a more methodical game. Lyons outscored Batavia 44-19 over the second and third quarters.
“They are so good in transition,” Nazos said. “Any laps that we had defensively were taken advantage of with a made basket. They are obviously very good. We are not at that caliber yet. They exposed a lot of things we need to work on. They do such a good job of getting out, they limit you to one shot and get open shots.”