It was a bittersweet evening for St. Clair Tuesday during its home boys basketball contest against Salem.
A big second quarter by Salem put the Bulldogs in a hole they couldn’t dig out of in a 69-60 loss.
“We were not ready to play that first half. We forced shots that we haven’t been forcing in a long time,” said St. Clair Head Coach Casey Korn. “We were not interested in five guys working together on the defensive end. They got every 50-50 ball. I was honestly disappointed in the way we played the first half.”
On the positive side of things, St. Clair turned a 26-point deficit midway through the third quarter into a seven-point game with just under a minute left to play in the fourth quarter, but just ran out of time.
Additionally, St. Clair senior guard Neyko Dominguez reached 1,000 career points on a basket with 5:30 remaining in the third quarter.
“I’m happy for Neyko for hitting that milestone. I know his teammates are happy for him as well. He understands that this could not have happened without those other guys on the floor,” Korn said. “He wants to win so badly and he will do whatever is asked of him. He has been asked to score the ball and make plays for us this year. He has been successful at that.
“If I would have asked Neyko to never shoot and only play defense, he would have done that as long as it would have helped us win games. He would trade those points for wins any day of the week. This whole group of seniors are the same way. Whatever role I have asked, they have been willing to accept. I feel like that is why we have been successful this year.”
Dominguez led St. Clair in the game with 20 points, six assists and five rebounds.
Reno Jones played a big role in the second-half rally with hot outside shooting, finishing with 12 points on three three-pointers.
Evan Murphy added 10 points and three rebounds.
Adam Brott collected six points and seven rebounds.
Ben Feddersen pitched in with four points and seven rebounds.
Austin Gotway and Evan Powell both scored three points. Gotway added three assists.
Will Rolley had two points and four rebounds. Coty DeClue and Spencer Crumbaugh also played.
St. Clair shot 38 percent from the field and was 10-14 from the free-throw line.
Salem was led by junior guard Cody Whitaker, who finished with 30 points. He scored 24 points in the first half and 19 points on five three-pointers in the second quarter.
“No. 22 (Whitaker) knocked down a ton of shots. That’s the time we needed to make the adjustment and find the shooter,” Korn said. “Evan Murphy did some great things defensively, holding their leading scorer (Chad Elliott) to one field goal, which was with 20 seconds left in the game. He scores 18 points per game.”
Leading 17-12 after one quarter, Salem outscored St. Clair 24-10 in the second quarter to lead 41-22 at halftime.
The Tigers’ biggest lead was 49-23 midway through the third quarter.
Dominguez’s milestone basket seemed to ignite the team and the home crowd, which began the Bulldogs’ second-half rally.
St. Clair cut the lead to 16 points, 51-35 after three quarters.
Jones nailed a three-pointer on consecutive possessions early in the fourth quarter.
Additional baskets by Brott, Dominguez, Powell, Murphy and Jones helped trim Salem’s lead to 63-56 with 50 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
“In the second half, we decided to compete and you saw the difference on both ends,” Korn said. “We still forced shots at times, but that was because we needed to score a lot in a little amount of time. Reno hit some shots that allowed us to cut into the lead.”
St. Clair played its final regular season game Friday at home against Hillsboro on senior night.
The Bulldogs are seeded fourth for next week’s Class 4 District 9 Tournament at Pacific High School. They play fifth-seeded Union in the opening round Monday at 6 p.m.