Ronnie Suggs and the fifth-seeded Washington Blue Jays were more than ready for the start of the 60th Annual St. Francis Borgia Pepsi Cola Thanksgiving Tournament.
Playing against fourth-seeded Cardinal Ritter Wednesday in the opening round, Suggs scored 36 points in leading the Blue Jays to a 76-63 victory.
Suggs surpassed his previous career-high of 22 points in the first half alone, scoring 23 points in the first 16 minutes.
“I was pumped for the game,” Suggs said. “I think we were all ready to play.”
The Blue Jays (1-0) take on top-seeded McCluer North in the championship semifinals Friday at 6 p.m. The Stars defeated eighth-seeded St. Clair in the opening round, 60-23.
Cardinal Ritter (0-1) plays St. Clair in the consolation semifinals Friday at 3 p.m.
Washington was 33-38 from the free-throw line while Cardinal Ritter was 10-11.
Suggs was 15-17 from the free-throw line and knocked down three three-pointers.
“Ronnie was feeling it, you could tell that early. This year with him, he’s just healthy. He’s also the most focused that I’ve ever seen him,” said Washington Head Coach Chip Sodemann. “I’m excited about the energy that he wants to play with. I think he’s going to have a nice year. He played his role. He scored when it was there. He passed when he was guarded. He played his role well, and he knocked down some shots to build his confidence.”
Suggs praised his teammates following the game.
“I have to give the credit to my teammates. Without them, I wouldn’t have gotten the shots that I did,” Suggs said. “I felt good. I’ve worked a lot on my shot. I worked with Scott (older brother and current University of Washington guard Scott Suggs) for two weeks in Seattle. I feel like I’ve improved my game a lot.”
Luke Schroepfer added 15 points for Washington, going 9-10 from the foul line.
Jared Walde finished with 11 points, going 3-4 from the line.
Brad Carpenter scored seven points, all in a stretch of two minutes in the third quarter to give the Blue Jays a spark.
Patrick Menke added five points, going 3-4 from the line. Jacob Mulkey had two points.
Luke Hasenjaeger and Cory Epperson also played.
“We’ve talked a lot about buying into our roles and how guys need to play their roles,” Sodemann said. “If they do that to the best of their ability, we’re going to have a chance for a decent year.”
Charles Jones paced Cardinal Ritter with 19 points. Jamar Luckett added 14 points. Jalen Rayford finished with nine points. Brandon Farbush scored eight points.
“We didn’t know a lot about Cardinal Ritter coming into the game. We knew they had good players and good athletes,” Sodemann said. “Our guys had opportunities where they could have folded, especially when they made some runs and got some steals. Our guys hung tough. I was really proud of them.”
Suggs scored 13 points in the first quarter, leading the Blue Jays to a 17-12 lead.
The Lions cut the lead to 19-17 early in the second quarter, but a pair of three-pointers by Suggs in the final two minutes helped Washington to a 33-27 halftime advantage.
Cardinal Ritter got as close as 41-38 on a pair of three-pointers by Luckett with 4:48 left in the third quarter, but got no closer during the second half.
Seven quick points by Carpenter helped the Blue Jays extend their lead to 56-48 after three quarters.
Washington had a 60-54 lead with 5:22 remaining in the fourth quarter and ended the game with a 16-9 run, highlighted on baskets by Menke, Suggs and Walde.
“Overall, we handled their pressure OK. We try to beat pressure by going to score, and we did that. Sometimes that can be a backbreaker for them when they’re trying to fight back into the game,” Sodemann said. “By us going down and getting some layups, it kind of took the wind out of their sails. We need to be in better shape so we can be at full speed at the end of the game.”
Sodemann expects a major challenge from McCluer North, the two-time defending Class 5 state champions.
“They’re super athletic. They play a style similar to ours, so we’ve seen fullcourt pressure every day in practice. Hopefully that will be an advantage for us,” Sodemann said. “They have guys who can shoot from the outside. It’s going to be a challenge. I know our guys are excited. They’ve beaten us the last couple of years in this tournament. Hopefully we’ll have a little payback for them.”