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Pope: North Chicago’s boys basketball season ranks at top of 2018’s memorable Lake County sports stories

“Love and happiness.”

That’s how North Chicago guard Ishaun Walker described the moment when he hugged coach King Coleman.

And it also could be the theme for two of my favorite 2018 Lake County sports stories.

The Walker-Coleman embrace occurred as time ran out in a Class 3A supersectional game. The Warhawks were one minute away from earning their first trip to the state semifinals in boys basketball since 2012.

Walker scored a team-high 16 points and Quency Gilmore added 15 on March 13 in the 69-55 victory against Boylan at the Sears Centre.

“It’s basically a dream come true,” Walker said after the game. “I’m just happy and ready for the ride.”

North Chicago’s run, and the strong community support, stood out to me for several reasons.

This team had an explosive offense and a suffocating defense. It was the perfect formula for success. And fun to watch as the Warhawks made school history.

The veteran roster had a ton of chemistry and enjoyed playing together. The Warhawks showcased their poise time and time again while winning 18 of 19 games before heading to the state semifinal.

North Chicago was ready for every single challenge.

“We put the city back on the map,” Gilmore said.

Yes, they did.

The results in Peoria didn’t go exactly as the Warhawks hoped, with losses to Springfield Southeast in the semifinal and Marian Catholic in the third-place game.

Still, the team displayed a fight that was admirable. The trip provided plenty of lasting memories.

“I’m proud of my seniors, they played hard,” Coleman said after the loss to Marian Catholic. “It’s nice to go out like this. They set history again for North Chicago and I’m very proud of them.

“Although the score says something else, they went out as winners.”

Another memorable moment in 2018 came away from the court and the field.

I was in my kitchen cleaning dishes and listening to the final day of the MLB draft when I heard the Cubs had selected Wauconda’s Pierson Gibis.

Every interview with a drafted player, be it in baseball, football or basketball, is always a thrill. Listening to Gibis was inspirational.

Gibis was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a form of pediatric cancer, in August 2016. He completed chemotherapy on Oct. 16, 2017 and radiation treatments on Nov. 24.

He singled in his first at-bat in a March 26 game against the Racine Hitters. And on June 6, the Cubs selected Gibis in the 39th round of the MLB draft. He was the 1,178th player picked.

“We kept telling him, a lot of kids have cancer, you don’t get drafted by the Cubs because of that,” his mother, Jan, said a few days after the draft. “He’s really hard working. He’ll make it somewhere some day.”

Gibis was at the Pro-Player facility in McHenry when he found out his favorite team drafted him.

“My whole body got the chills,” Gibis said in June. “I was like, ‘Holy cow.’”

Gibis is now attending Madison College. There’s no denying the impact his favorite sport made during his fight.

“We’ve always said that baseball kind of saved his life,” Jan Gibis. “All he wanted to do was to play baseball again.”

That’s some of the power of sports. And also the power of family, friends and dedication.

“Baseball has been a driving force behind it all,” Pierson Gibis said. “I knew from day one that I wasn’t done playing baseball. I wasn’t letting something like that define me.”

Here’s to more good news for all in 2019.

Twitter @lamondpope

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