Years from now, when we’re all old and gray talking about the good old days, the 2012-13 Borgia Knights probably aren’t going to be remembered as one of the best boys basketball teams.
In fact, earlier this season, people probably talked about how this might be the year Borgia’s string of district titles came to a halt.
But you never can count the Knights out. And as long as they’re in the playoffs, there’s always a chance this team could ascend to lofty heights.
Borgia claimed the Class 4 District 9 championship in Pacific Saturday, beating Sullivan 50-38.
The Knights (19-8) will play Hillcrest Wednesday in Rolla at 6 p.m. at Missouri S&T in sectional action.
While enjoying the district title, the Knights are looking forward to playing on Wednesday.
“It feels amazing,” Borgia senior Casey Kuchem said. “I remember my sophomore and junior years when we won it too. They were great feelings, but this was just amazing.”
Kuchem was on the varsity roster as a sophomore.
“I’m so excited,” Kuchem said. “It’s going to be great. I know we’re going to play in Rolla. I remember playing there as a sophomore and it was great. It’s going to be exciting.”
Borgia senior Jordan Miller said to be able to share the title with his fellow seniors was special.
“It’s great,” Borgia senior Jordan Miller said. “Sharing it with Casey, John (Baumstark) and River (Filla) as seniors is a great feeling. I’m just happy we pulled that out.”
For Miller, the district tournament was something of a homecoming. Growing up, Jordan’s father, Dan Miller, was head coach of Pacific’s girls basketball team.
“My dad was a coach here, so I grew up in this gym,” Miller said. “I shot around with his team. I just couldn’t hit that many shots this week but other people stepped up and did what they had to do.”
Senior John Baumstark was excited about the title.
“It’s a great feeling my senior year, just coming out and playing great ball,” Baumstark said.
Baumstark said it was a tremendous atmosphere for the district title game.
“The atmosphere was crazy,” Baumstark said. “It was so loud. We barely could hear ourselves. It was good to end my senior year with a district championship. Now we get to play on Wednesday. I’m just glad we get to practice next week. I’m excited.”
Baumstark knows emotion is an important part of his game.
“I definitely thrive off of emotion,” Baumstark said. “I could tell I was jacked up when we went out for warmups and I jump really high. That’s when I know I’m jacked up for the game. The student section was crazy. The parents were going crazy. Everyone had a lot of passion about this game. It really showed on the court how much this game meant to us.”
Celebrating a district title had extra meaning for the program as well.
The season started with a fourth-place finish in the 60th Annual Turkey Tournament. The Knights had to rally just to win in the opener and then suffered big losses to St. Louis Christian and McCluer North.
The Knights responded with three wins before Duchesne handed Borgia its first-ever Archdiocesan Athletic Association loss, 68-44.
The Knights never played for a tournament title during the regular season, finishing fifth at the Washington Tournament and third at the Ameritime Classic.
But Dave Neier and his staff never stopped looking for ways to improve the team.
That meant a lot of lineup changes. One of the players who proved his mettle during the switches was junior guard Zac Schweissguth. He claimed one of the starting spots during the roster jostle.
“Just having my coaches confidence behind me and they knew what I could do,” said Schweissguth. “Our season turned around. We started playing better basketball and I stuck in a starting spot.”
Borgia’s genesis into a winning team involved the willingness to play low-scoring games. Once known as a running and shooting team, the Knights became a determined defensive team and started to take advantage to the strengths.
Schweissguth’s emergence helped the Knights go 13-2 down the stretch with the only losses coming to Hazelwood Central and Duchesne.
The three senior starters, Miller, Kuchem and Baumstark, welcomed others to the starting lineup.
Tyler Breckenkamp and Alex Moss came off the bench to give the team an added outside shooting boost. Both hit key threes in the district title game.
And the blue collar group of Filla, Kevin Birk and Adam Meyer gave Borgia the extra defensive grit it needed to be physical when the situation called for it.
Neier and his assistants, veterans Bill Kimminau and Stan Westhoff and rookies Luke Meyer and Eric Kimminau, continued to overcome every obstacle.
And that included the loss of Neier for a bit near the end of the season. Neier ran into some health issues (and who among us hasn’t from time to time?). A very humble and private individual, Neier was forced to miss a few games near the end of the season. However, he’s better now and back on the bench. In fact, he actually traveled to Marshfield to see Hillcrest play prior to Saturday’s championship game.
“It was tough being out a couple of games,” Neier said. “I got to listen to one game on the radio. That’s the hardest thing to do. You feel like you should be there and you want to be there. The anxiety just builds up when you’re not there. You just continue thinking about what’s coming up next, the rotation of players and plays and changes in the players. You don’t have a chance to get nervous. When you’re listening on the radio, you’re nervous all of the time.”
Personally, this team reminds me a lot of the 1990-91 Knights. Nobody gave them a chance, either. But Borgia not only won a district title as a middle seed (its first since 1985), but it advanced to the quarterfinals and held a lead over eventual state champion Festus in the second half before falling to the Tigers.
That group started a run of strong teams which led to the school’s first state championship in 1993 and four more after that.
Another, more recent comparison, might be to the 2010-11 Knights. That team had graduated most of the players from the 2009 state championship team and 2010 one-loss runner-up, but somehow not only won its district, but then beat Helias and Hillcrest to reach the state tournament.
In Columbia, the Knights beat Soldan, but lost to unbeaten Sikeston for the championship.
Both the 1990-91 and 2010-11 Knights overachieved. How will this year’s squad do?
Only time will tell.
How competitive was the area girls basketball scene?
Four teams from the Four Rivers Conference won district titles.
“That’s pretty impressive,” Sullivan Head Coach Jason Merkel said. “I don’t know if that’s ever been done before. It speaks volumes to how tough this conference is.”
Two, St. James in Class 3 and New Haven in Class 2, have reached the state semifinals, which take place Thursday.
Sullivan, the conference co-champion, plays in a Class 4 sectional game Wednesday.
And Hermann, which split the league title with Sullivan, lost in the Class 3 sectional round.
The Archdiocesan Athletic Association never drew the type of praise as the FRC, but also has three of its teams advancing. The league’s top team, Borgia (Large Division champion) eliminated in the Class 4 District 9 semifinals.
Lutheran St. Charles, the Small Division champion, is in the Class 3 semifinals and plays North Tech (the team which beat Hermann) Thursday in the semifinals.
St. Dominic and Rosati-Kain won their respective Class 4 districts and play in sectional action Wednesday.