What a way to kick off the 43rd Annual Washington Boys Basketball Tournament.
In the opening game of the tournament Monday night, eighth-seeded St. Clair nearly pulled a stunner over top-seeded Washington, but the Blue Jays escaped with a 64-61 overtime victory.
“St. Clair made big shots and guarded us really well. Coach (Casey) Korn had his guys ready to take down the No. 1 seed in the tournament,” said Washington Head Coach Grant Young. “We came out flat and missed shots. We can’t ever underestimate an opponent and we can’t turn it on with a light switch any time we want. We have to be ready to go at the beginning of the game, no matter who the competition is.”
The Bulldogs held the lead throughout the contest until the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, including a 47-35 advantage with 4:37 remaining in regulation.
“The effort these kids gave was amazing. Going back to the beginning of the year, I said our goal was to get better every day. We’ve gotten better from day one,” said St. Clair Head Coach Casey Korn. “The disappointing part is, since the Turkey Tournament, we’ve been leading every game we’ve played into the fourth quarter and we’re 2-4 in that stretch. We have to learn how to finish. The nice part about tonight is we didn’t quit when they made their run. We’re learning how to do it. I wish it would happen a little faster.”
Washington (8-5) advances to meet fourth-seeded Bayless (8-2) in the championship semifinals Friday at 6 p.m.
The Bronchos defeated fifth-seeded Westminster, 89-53.
“Bayless is a really good team. After this game against St. Clair, you can say that anybody is capable of winning the tournament,” Young said. “Whoever is the most mentally prepared for each game is the team that’s going to win the tournament.”
St. Clair (2-7) takes on Westminster (5-5) in the consolation semifinals Thursday at 6 p.m.
“We can be happy that we had an opportunity to beat a really good Washington team on the road or we can be a little angry about it and come to practice with a mission,” Korn said. “We’re going to see how we respond to this. Hopefully we take that next step.”
The story of the game was St. Clair junior guard Damon Arnold, who nailed nine three-pointers on 14 attempts and finished with a game-high 29 points.
“He wanted to beat us single-handily and he almost did. He was on fire,” Young said of Arnold. “We lost him on screens at times and we lost him in our matchup. Even when we had a hand in his face, he still made some shots.”
With the Bulldogs trailing 52-49, Arnold drilled a three-pointer with 10 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
“There’s days in practice when it’s just humorous. We’ll have hands in Damon’s face, I’ll tell him it’s a terrible shot, and he’ll hit four in a row,” Korn said. “We’ve worked on him to get his feet set and be ready to shoot on the catch. He has a quick trigger. When his feet are set and he’s ready to shoot, he makes more shots than he misses.”
Ronnie Suggs led the way for Washington with 18 points, 15 of which came in the second half and overtime.
Mike Morgan finished the game with 15 points.
Patrick Menke netted 11 points. Jacob Mulkey added seven points.
Dane Meyer chipped in with five points. Brad Carpenter and Isaiah West both had three points. Austin Subke scored two points. Trey Walsh also played.
“Dane gave us a lot of energy when he was in the game,” Young said. “Due to his heart condition, he’s limited to how long we’re allowed to play him. He can only give us four or five minutes a half.”
In addition to Arnold’s 29 points, Reno Jones finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and six assists for St. Clair.
“Reno rebounds, he can score and he helps handle the ball and makes nice passes,” Korn said. “He did a nice job on help defense.”
Kyler Waldo added five points. Kevin Cox scored four points. Wyatt Wachter had three points on a halftime buzzer-beater.
Also playing were Harley Love, Keola Bursey, Charlie Fuchs and Terrance Stahlman.
“Kevin Cox did a great job defending Suggs. Every minute Suggs was in the game, Cox was in there to go against him,” Korn said. “Suggs is going to score, but Cox did what we asked him to do.”
St. Clair held leads of 18-9 after one quarter and 29-21 at halftime.
Arnold had five three-pointers in the first half and four in the second half and overtime.
Washington pulled to within 29-25 early in the third quarter, but the Bulldogs maintained the advantage, holding a 37-32 lead after three quarters.
A pair of three-pointers by Arnold and a basket by Jones gave St. Clair its 12-point lead with 4:37 left to play.
The Blue Jays responded with a 15-2 run over three minutes to grab a 50-49 lead with 1:47 left.
Suggs, Morgan and Menke had baskets during the run.
Washington had a three-point lead before Arnold tied the game in the final seconds.
Menke scored 14 seconds into overtime and the Blue Jays never surrendered the lead.
A pair of three-pointers by Jones in the final 19 seconds kept the Bulldogs alive. They had the ball with a chance to tie the game, but missed an off-balance three-pointer as the final buzzer sounded.
“Mentally, we weren’t focused and ready to go. The good thing is we rallied from 12 points down late in the game and pulled it off,” Young said. “We’ve got to reach our plateau sometime because we haven’t gotten there yet. The kids have to keep pushing themselves and be prepared every game.”
St. Clair hopes to build from its performance.
“When you put sophomores and juniors in as the eighth seed on the road playing the one seed, you’re going to have mistakes,” Korn said. “The question was how were we going to handle things after we got knocked down. I thought our kids responded very well. We got right back up and kept playing.”
A big second half led Bayless past Westminster.
Leading 44-33 at halftime, the Bronchos controlled the second half, outscoring Westminster, 45-20.
Patrick Triplett led Bayless with 33 points on 15-20 shooting.
Edin Mehmedovic added 23 points. Munir Hirkic scored 13 points. Excell Harris had 11 points.
Bayless shot 66 percent from the field. Westminster’s stats were not available at press time.