St. Clair and Pacific, meeting for the third time this season, slugged it out in an intense, physical boys basketball contest Friday at Pacific High School.
The Bulldogs, looking for an unbeaten, outright Four Rivers Conference championship, had to settle for a share of the league title with a 53-39 loss at the Reservation.
It was Pacific’s third win over St. Clair this season.
St. Clair (12-11, 6-1) split the league crown with Sullivan, a 71-61 victory over St. James.
“When we looked at the schedule at the beginning of the year, we thought this would be the conference championship game. Essentially it was. We ended up losing, but we still get a share of the conference championship,” said St. Clair Head Coach Casey Korn. “I’m extremely proud of our guys. They wanted this one bad. They wanted to be 7-0, but we beat the other team (Sullivan) head-to-head, so we’re pumped about that.”
Pacific (15-9, 5-2) scored nearly half of its points in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Bulldogs 26-14, to pull away.
“When you play a team for a third time and you’re kind of evenly matched, it can be pretty intense. We’ve come out on the good end against them,” said Pacific Head Coach John VanLeer. “The fourth quarter has been the difference. That comes down to how hard we work our kids in practice and the conditioning we do.”
Cullen VanLeer collected 15 points and six assists for Pacific.
But it was the play of junior forward Logan Armstrong who gave the Indians a huge lift off the bench. He finished with 11 points and three rebounds on 5-7 shooting from the field. “Logan was the player of the game,” VanLeer said. “He came in and made some shots in the second quarter and again in the second half.”
Zeth Boyer added nine points and seven rebounds.
Zach Kraus pitched in with five points.
Noah Boyer, Tanner Brown and Jeffrey Hinkle each scored four points. Hinkle grabbed four rebounds. Chris Klenke scored one point.
Pacific was 19-31 from the free-throw line. St. Clair was 8-13.
“We stepped up and made some shots. Noah, Tanner and Cullen all made threes. Zeth and everybody else making free throws down the stretch was big. I’m proud of our guys. We really battled,” VanLeer said.
“Cullen demands so much attention. I think we’ve done a great job defending him all three times we’ve played them. Tanner Brown tore us up the first two matchups. We did a nice job on him this time,” Korn said. “They had a couple of other guys hit shots. Sometimes we need somebody else to knock down a shot or two. Austin Gotway hit a big three for us.”
Adam Brott and Neyko Dominguez both scored eight points for St. Clair. Brott added eight rebounds. Dominguez had three assists.
Evan Murphy finished with six points. Austin Gotway and Brandon York both had four points. Will Rolley scored three points. Evan Powell, Ben Feddersen and Coty DeClue each had two points.
“They hit a couple of big shots and we didn’t hit many. We had some good looks. They just didn’t fall. You’re going to have those kinds of days,” Korn said. “We were still in the game in the fourth quarter when we shot 23 percent in the first half. I was proud of the way we battled.”
With the game tied 6-6 after one quarter, the Indians went on a 9-2 run in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the second quarter to grab a 15-8 advantage.
Pacific led 17-12 at halftime.
St. Clair then went on a 9-2 run in the first four minutes of the third quarter to tie the game, 21-21.
Pacific held a 27-25 lead heading into the final eight minutes.
“We defended well the whole game. It was a physical game. We went to the basket and weren’t finishing,” VanLeer said. “Finally Noah, Cullen and Tanner all made a three in a matter of about five possessions. That’s where we got our space.”
Points were hard to come by all night.
“You had to be a man on both teams to score inside the paint. It was a battle,” Korn said. “You had to go up through traffic and just see what happened. We competed for four quarters. We didn’t take a play off.”
Both teams will play at Pacific during next week’s Class 4 District 9 Tournament.
“We wanted to win so badly. I don’t think we played our game at times, especially late,” Korn said. “I told our guys this is our new home floor with districts here. We better embrace it.”
The Indians are a confident team at home.
“We’re pretty good on our home court. We have only one loss here this year. We shoot the ball pretty well here,” VanLeer said. “We have De Soto on Tuesday and then districts start. We’re going to take it one possession at a time. We’re going to get ready and try to defend our home court.”