The Wheaton Bulldogs won their homecoming game over the Exeter Tigers on Jan. 25, posting a 70-41 victory. Jory Bartkoski and Hli Yang were crowned king and queen, respectively, and the Wheaton community paid homage to past homecoming queens as well.
The number "3" figured prominently into the pregame hype for the contest between the Tigers and the Bulldogs.
For Exeter, the game was an opportunity to post a three-game winning streak and achieve another milestone in bringing that storied program back to prominace. For Wheaton, "three" was the number of starters that would be sitting on Rusty Roe's bench for a variety of injuries and issues.
Exeter's Jay Allen summed it up neatly with his daily Twitter update on Friday, saying, "Tonight is going to be tough. We need to focus more on what we have, and less about who may or may not be playing for them."
Still, it was a shock when Wheaton's three tallest starters (Jory Bartkoski, Darrell Burns, and Justin Walker) remained on the pine for the opening tip. With all Wheaton starters measuring 5'9" or less, Exeter had a decided height advantage.
Wheaton's Chase Cantwell scored 7 points in the first four minutes of play, as the Bulldogs established an early 10-4 lead. James Kho brought the Tigers within 12-9 with a trey from the right wing, and Wheaton's Rusty Roe smelled trouble. Bartkoski peeled off his warm-ups and joined the fray.
Bartkoski immediately drew a foul on Exeter's Austin Trotter and converted two free throws. He then snared a defensive rebound and raced coast-to-coast for a fast break layup that propelled the Bulldogs to a 21-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.
With Burns, the defending state high jump champion also on the floor, Wheaton's lead grew to 27-15 midway through the second quarter. But Bartkoski was staggered by an inadvertent elbow and dripped blood from one end of the court to the other before the officials finally halted play. The teams sat for a prolonged period as officials, coaches, and volunteers disinfected and cleaned the stained floor.
But the extended stoppage of play had no effect on the Bulldogs as they drove to a 35-19 halftime lead.
Bartkoski returned for the third period, wearing a clean #40 uniform instead of his usual #2. But the only numbers that mattered were the ones on the scoreboard and they tilted more and more in favor of the Bulldogs.
Bartkoski scored consecutive baskets to give Wheaton the first 20-point lead of the game at the 3:39 mark of the third quarter. Then Justin Yeary's fast break layup gave the 'Dogs a 54-31 lead at the final break.
The lead would never dip under 23 in the final period, and Wheaton led by as many as 32 before Exeter's Colten Stringer scored the last points of the game to create the 70-41 final.
Scoring for Wheaton: Justin Yeary, 15 points; Bartkoski, 12; Tyler Musick, 10; Chase Cantwell, 9; and Steven Hendrix, Burns, and Matt Hickman, 8 each.
Exeter scorers: Colten Stringer, 12 points; Kong Lee, 11; James Kho, 8; Blake Walker, 4; and Terry Cook, Austin Trotter, and Ty Pendergraft, 2 apiece.