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Kyle Lipke lifts Providence past Evergreen Park

Providence’s Kyle Lipke couldn’t believe it.

Teammate Tyler Cucio fed the 6-foot-8 senior forward a pass Wednesday night, and there was nothing there but Lipke and the basket, so he executed a monster dunk.

“Got me the ball and I was like, ‘Here it is,’” he said. “Then I was like, ‘Boom.’ Just like that.”

That boom turned out to be huge for the Celtics in a 75-67 nonconference win over host Evergreen Park. It came with 1:24 remaining in a tight game that put Providence up 65-62.

Junior guard Seth Cheney emphasized the meaning behind Lipke’s dunk.

“That was the exclamation point right there,” Cheney said. “That was big time.”

Cheney led the Celtics (15-12) to their sixth straight win with 27 points, including 21 in the first half. Colin Crean added 13 points, followed by Bob Jenner with 11 and Lipke with eight.

Tre Dowdell paced Evergreen Park (20-10) with 19 points. Billy Buchanan added 17, Nolan Sexton had 15 and Keshaun Vaval had 12. The Mustangs were 12-4 in their previous 16 games.

Providence coach Tim Trendel was happy Lipke could electrify the crowd with the slam dunk and provide momentum during a big closing run for the Celtics, who are 8-1 in their last nine games.

“That gave us a lot of energy and everyone kind of breathed a sigh of relief,” Trendel said. “He’s done that a few times in other games. He’s kind of the unsung hero of the group.

“Seth’s the man, but Kyle is the guy who has to go in there and bang and do the dirty work. We rely on him a lot. When he’s in there, we’re a lot better team.”

Providence’s Seth Cheney gets ready to make a move against Evergreen Park during a nonconference game in Evergreen Park on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. (Jeff Vorva / Daily Southtown)

Lipke, meanwhile, gave credit to Cucio for the pass.

“Yes, that was a big-time play,” Lipke said. “But that doesn’t happen without my teammates.”

Cheney said having Lipke’s presence has been paramount.

“The biggest thing is having him out there,” Cheney said. “We can space the floor, and it opens up our offense a lot.  We can move the ball around the wing and he can flash.

“And when we give it to him, he can take it to the rim.”

Providence has come a long way since Jan. 19, when the Celtics lost 54-37 to Wheaton St. Francis and fell to 7-11. It’s why Trendel was happy the close victory clinched a winning record.

Maybe it’s a modest goal to some, but Providence hasn’t had a winning season since 2014-15, when Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Miles Boykin was helping to lead the Celtics.

“Going over .500 was one of our goals coming into the season,” Trendel said. “We’ve got to build this up brick by brick. You want to make sure your team is playing the best basketball in March.

“That’s the goal. We’ll maybe sacrifice a little in November and December, but this is the time of the year where you are hopefully playing your best.”

Evergreen Park’s Tre Dowdell (14) slips past Providence’s Tyler Cucio during a nonconference game in Evergreen Park on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. (Jeff Vorva / Daily Southtown)

After his strong first half, Cheney appreciated the fact his teammates pulled off the win even when the points were not coming as rapidly for him during the final 16 minutes.

“When shots aren’t falling or you get shut down, they pick you up and keep going,” Cheney said.

Lipke, who also is a pitcher for the Celtics in baseball, is unclear about his athletic future after he graduates from Providence. He said he has been playing basketball since third grade.

If this is it, he will miss the sport.

“I love the team chemistry and the team being unified,” he said. “I really appreciate my coaches and everything they do for us.

“When I was younger, I was always one of the bigger kids, and they threw me down low. Coach Trendel gives me that opportunity to expand my range and do some different things.”

Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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