By Craig Vonder Haar
Missourian Sports Writer
Holding serve on its home floor, Washington has taken over sole possession of first place in the GAC Central boys basketball standings.
The Blue Jays (11-6, 4-0) followed up a win last Tuesday over Ft. Zumwalt North with a 75-66 victory Friday over Ft. Zumwalt South.
It was the first league loss for Zumwalt South (13-3, 2-1) while Zumwalt North stands at 1-1 in conference play.
In the GAC Central, each team plays the four other squads twice in a home-and-home series.
“I’m not sure the last time Washington has beaten North and South, and we did it in the same week,” said Washington Head Coach Grant Young. “The boys are excited about taking the conference lead in the GAC Central. We’ve had a lot of leadership with our seniors. The kids have put in a lot of time at practice.”
Washington was 31-34 from the free-throw line in the contest.
“I’d like to say that we practice free throws a lot, but really we don’t. We haven’t shot free throws in about a month,” Young said. “When your kids have confidence at the line, there’s not much work that needs to be done. That gives you extra time to work on what your weaknesses are. We’ve been grinding on our defense and our rebounding. That really made a difference for us. We gave them fits in the first half.”
It was a big game for Washington’s Ronnie Suggs, who scored 35 points, going 18-19 from the foul line.
“Early in the season, Ronnie settled for a lot of jumpers. We’ve been preaching to him to get a piece of the paint. His scoring has gone up because he’s been able to take people off on the drive,” Young said. “When he gets a piece of the paint, people help and he’s able to kick or get to the free-throw line.”
Mike Morgan finished the game with 19 points.
“This is a kid who’s playing with a chipped bone in his right leg that he’ll have surgery on at the end of the season,” Young said of Morgan. “He’s been playing through pain all season. He’ll be shut down for six months of rest after surgery. He’s a trooper. He’s just bleeding with confidence and really lighting it up.”
Brad Carpenter, who scored 10 points, surpassed Jordan Stapp for most career three-pointers in school history. Stapp’s record was 159. Carpenter also is on the verge of the single-season school record.
Patrick Menke added seven points. Jacob Mulkey scored four points.
Also playing were Austin Subke, Dane Meyer, Isaiah West and Christian Hardesty.
“Patrick made another big three for us and our kids really responded to it,” Young said. “You can see a light clicking on in our kids’ eyes.”
The Bulldogs had four players in double figures, led by Preston Whitfield’s 19 points.
Eli Hlinak finished with 14 points. Matt Galvin added 13 points. Marshawn Blackmon scored 11 points.
Washington held the lead throughout the contest.
Leading 15-9 after one quarter, the Blue Jays pushed the advantage to double digits midway through the second quarter and led 33-20 at halftime.
Washington led by as many as 17 points, 49-32, with 2:48 remaining in the third quarter.
The score was trimmed to 51-41 heading into the final eight minutes.
A three-pointer by Menke built the lead to 55-41 one minute into the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs came back and cut the lead to 55-48 with 4:55 left and 64-58 with 1:52 remaining, but the Blue Jays sealed the win with free throws down the stretch.
Washington has the entire week off and will return to action Tuesday, Feb. 4, at Pacific at 5:30 p.m.
“We have a week off and we need to fine-tune things,” Young said. “Four games ago, after not playing well against St. Clair, we had Bayless, St. Charles or Borgia, Ft. Zumwalt North and Ft. Zumwalt South ahead of us. That’s a stretch of games where we easily could have gone 0-4. Instead, we went 3-1. That’s the confidence of our kids, them rallying together and buying in to what we’re preaching. Our hard work is making it fun. Our kids are responding well.”