St. Clair is one win away from an unbeaten Four Rivers Conference championship.
The Bulldogs (12-10, 6-0) clinched at least a share of the conference title with a 53-43 boys basketball home victory Tuesday over New Haven.
St. Clair takes the outright FRC title with a win Friday at Pacific (14-9, 4-2), a team it has lost to twice this season at the Borgia and Union tournaments.
If the Bulldogs lose to Pacific, they will share the FRC crown with Friday’s Sullivan-St. James winner.
“We’ll take this scenario any day of the week. Obviously our work is not done. We want to continue to get better,” said St. Clair Head Coach Casey Korn. “If you asked at the beginning of the year if going into the last game that you had an opportunity to win the conference championship outright, I’d say that we’d give it a shot. Whatever happens, happens.”
Korn expects a big challenge Friday on Pacific’s home court.
“Pacific is a good basketball team. They’ve beaten us twice. Hopefully our guys are hungry,” Korn said. “On their home court, they’ll want to play good basketball and keep us from winning the conference outright. We’ve gotten better since we’ve played them. We’re really learning how to win. That’s something we didn’t have early in the year. We’re excited about it.”
Neyko Dominguez led St. Clair in the scoring column against New Haven with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists. He was 4-5 from three-point range.
Adam Brott finished with eight points and five rebounds.
Brandon York added seven points, two rebounds and two assists.
Evan Powell and Evan Murphy both scored six points. Powell grabbed five rebounds. Murphy had four rebounds.
Ben Feddersen registered three points and three rebounds. Reno Jones scored two points.
Austin Gotway did not score, but had seven assists and two rebounds.
Will Rolley and Spencer Crumbaugh also played.
St. Clair shot 45 percent from the field and was 8-13 from the free-throw line.
“New Haven is a well-coached team. They’re disciplined. They know their roles. They do all the things that good teams need to do. We knew it would be a tough game,” Korn said. “The one thing we did extremely well was rebound the basketball. We really hammered the glass hard. I know we had the size advantage. It’s something we’ve been emphasizing in practice offensively and defensively. We did that real well, which led to extra possessions.”
New Haven (11-13, 1-5) was led by Kyle Ruediger, who had 19 points, eight rebounds and two assists.
Seth Schenck finished with 11 points and three assists.
Ross Seitter collected seven points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Austin Madden scored four points. Alex Poggas had two points.
Blake Eggers and Ben Luecke also played.
New Haven shot 43 percent from the field and was 7-12 from the foul line.
“These games in the Four Rivers are tough to win. Every possession on both ends of the floor matters,” said New Haven Head Coach Ray Steinhoff. “Offensively, we didn’t play with that sense of urgency in the first half. We weren’t willing to wait for the good shot, and we had a let down here and there on the defensive end. These teams are too good. It’s too hard to win. You can’t have any kind of let down. Our margin for error isn’t that great. It’s tough, but you have to bare down every possession.”
Leading 12-8 after one quarter, the Bulldogs had a 13-6 second-quarter run to lead 25-14 at halftime.
“In the first half, our biggest problem was on the offensive end,” Steinhoff said. “We had possessions where we weren’t patient enough. We took some hurried shots, we took some tough shots. If we just had shown more patience, I think we would have gotten better shots.”
St. Clair held a 37-28 lead after three quarters, but the Shamrocks trimmed it down to 44-39 with 3:30 left in the game. They also made it 46-41 with 2:44 to play, but got no closer.
“We had it down to five points with a couple of opportunities to cut it and actually had a couple of good looks. Those shots aren’t always going to go,” Steinhoff said. “We gave ourselves a chance. We dug ourselves too big a hole early.”
The Bulldogs sealed the win with free throws down the stretch.
“In our past few games, especially in the conference, we’ve done a nice job at the free-throw line closing out games,” Korn said. “We’re gaining that confidence day in and day out. We’re expecting to win. I get on my players pretty good about mental mistakes, but as a coaching staff, we really try to build confidence in these kids, and I think it’s starting to come. We’re trying to get that confidence going into the final stretch.”
St. Clair’s execution held off the Shamrocks.
“Late in the game in the fourth quarter, they really started sealing us inside, which was smart,” Steinhoff said. “We gave up a lot of inches in there and they started sealing us and got some easy baskets around the rim.”
After playing Owensville Friday, fourth-seeded New Haven opens the Class 2 District 4 Tournament at Crystal City Monday against fifth-seeded Crystal City.
St. Clair hosts Salem Tuesday at 6 p.m.
“We’ve been through a tough stretch for quite a while. We lost a number of close games in January,” Steinhoff said. “The conference season has been tough night in and night out. We’ve had a hard time getting over the hump. We need to get ourselves in a good mind set going into districts.”