Playing without its leading scorer, Union made St. Clair earn a Four Rivers Conference boys basketball victory.
The Bulldogs (5-14, 2-2) held the lead throughout the night, but never pulled away in a 51-43 win at St. Clair High School.
“We’ve been losing leads late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, so it was nice to not fall back and lose the lead,” said St. Clair Head Coach Casey Korn. “We were able to extend it in the fourth quarter. I was proud of the way we were able to do that.”
The Wildcats (5-12, 0-4) were without junior guard Nick Ziegler (18.6 points per game), who had to sit out after being disqualified from their last game against New Haven for a flagrant foul.
“Nick is a great teammate. He was here cheering on his teammates,” said Union Head Coach Chris Simmons. “It was disappointing not to have him. It changes everything when he’s out. We’re young. (Brian) Borgmann is our only senior. We’ll get better.”
Without Ziegler, the Wildcats had just seven players in uniform. To make matters worse, second-leading scorer Brian Borgmann was in foul trouble for most of the game and spent a lot of time on the bench.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m making an excuse, you have to give St. Clair credit for the win, but with Nick out and Borgmann in foul trouble, that’s 30 points per game on the bench, our top two scorers,” Simmons said. “That’s not an excuse. We couldn’t get a flow going offensively. I’m still proud of our kids because we were in the game and had a chance to win.”
Even the Bulldogs might have experienced a letdown with Ziegler not playing.
“We understand they didn’t have Ziegler and he’s one of the best players in the conference,” Korn said. “We prepared to stop him, attack him and get after him. With him not playing, I think our guys just assumed we had it. You have to bring it night in and night out.”
Reno Jones led St. Clair with 17 points and nine rebounds.
“The more Reno plays, the more I realize how much better he’s gotten from last year,” Korn said. “He’s one of the best players in the conference. He does everything we need him to do.”
Damon Arnold added 14 points, going 8-8 from the free-throw line.
Harley Love finished with six points and four rebounds.
Ben Feddersen netted four points. Spencer Crumbaugh and Kevin Cox both scored three points. Darrell Martin and Kyler Waldo both had two points.
The Bulldogs were without Keola Bursey, who was sick.
“Damon hit two big threes and he knocked down free throws. That was important for us,” Korn said. “Kyler also hit two big free throws. That helps our ability to win.”
Tanner Bunch led a balanced Union attack with 12 points.
Ethan Hughes, a freshman, finished the game with eight points. Nick Kretzler added six points.
Kevin Curran, Dillon Breeden and Andrei Ciot each scored five points. Borgmann had two points.
“Everyone on the court played extremely hard for Union and it seemed like they wanted it more, at times, than we did, especially in the first half,” Korn said.
Trailing 14-8 after one quarter, Union pulled to within two points in the second quarter and trailed 24-21 at halftime.
St. Clair held an 8-3 advantage in the third quarter to extend their lead to 32-24 heading into the final eight minutes.
Both teams scored 19 points in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats pulled to within 32-29 with 6:23 remaining, but got no closer.
“We have to learn how to get over the hump and win these games. We’ve had a lot of games where we’ve lost by 10 points or less. Somebody told me with a young team, you’re going to lose close games. I hate to admit it, but that’s what we’ve done. Hopefully we’re learning from it,” Simmons said. “It’s a great group of kids. We have eight kids who get after it every day in practice and fight for each other. There’s no selfishness or finger pointing.”
The Bulldogs, who were 22-34 from the foul line, knocked down enough in the end to earn the win.
“We executed what we tried to do offensively pretty well in the first half where we tried to penetrate and get the ball inside. We didn’t want to settle for a bunch of outside shots,” Korn said. “We wanted to get some lane touches and we did that. We got some good shots. I was happy about that.”