St. Clair is playing its best basketball of the season.
That trend continued last Friday when the final two unbeaten boys teams in Four Rivers Conference play, St. Clair and St. James, met at St. Clair High School.
The Bulldogs (11-10, 5-0) took sole possession of the FRC lead with a 66-58 victory, handing the Tigers just their second loss of the season.
“Our guys played really well. It was back and forth and an exciting game to watch,” said St. Clair Head Coach Casey Korn. “We would love to become the conference champions, but more importantly in our minds is focusing on what we need to do to continue to get better. Our team has kept improving since day one, which has been one of our goals.”
The difference in the game came in the third quarter, where the Bulldogs outscored St. James 19-7, turning a 35-32 halftime deficit into a 51-42 lead heading into the final eight minutes.
“We came out strong, didn’t turn the ball over early and prevented their fast break opportunities,” Korn said. “Later in the first quarter and early in the second, we started turning the ball over more, which led to their scoring. We settled down and had a bunch of really good looks toward the end of the half, but just missed layups.
“The third quarter was great. We played maybe the best quarter I have seen us play. We guarded and worked together as a team. We hit the glass hard and beat them in transition to take a nice lead. Austin Gotway and Neyko Dominguez on back-to-back plays got rebounds and threw it to each other for layups for two of our highlights this year.”
St. Clair was able to hold off St. James down the stretch.
“In the fourth quarter, they put on the pressure and we were able to handle it,” Korn said. “They cut it to three points, but we made our free throws and kept the lead.”
Neyko Dominguez paced St. Clair with 15 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and four steals.
Will Rolley finished with 12 points and three rebounds.
Adam Brott collected nine points and nine rebounds.
Evan Murphy registered eight points, two rebounds and two assists.
Reno Jones and Ben Feddersen both scored seven points. Jones added four rebounds.
Austin Gotway scored six points. Evan Powell had two points. Brandon York missed his fourth straight game with a shoulder injury.
St. Clair shot 53 percent from the field and was 19-22 from the free-throw line.
St. James (21-2, 4-1) played without its leading scorer and rebounder, 6-6 senior forward Jack Mueller, who was injured in the Tigers’ previous game against Hermann.
“Our guys were excited and they played really well. Adam Brott did a very nice job defending (Jake) Ford and cleaning up the glass,” Korn said. “We got some great minutes from Will Rolley. Reno Jones hit a couple shots that really sparked that third quarter. Neyko had the ball in his hands most of the game and for the most part, did a nice job against their pressure.”
St. Clair clinched at least a tie of the FRC title with a win Tuesday against New Haven. The Bulldogs play their final FRC contest Friday at Pacific.
“Pacific is a team we know really well and they know us. We have played them close a couple of times this year, but they have made fourth quarter runs that we have not been able to counter," Korn said.
“I am so proud of our guys the way they have stayed with the system and the season. If we get better this week in practice, I will be happy whether we are conference champions or not. We still have a lot of basketball to play.”