Close only counts in horseshoes.
But not in basketball.
A couple of near misses in the first two rounds of the Union Tournament have made the host Wildcats hungry to finish off the event Saturday with a victory.
Union (3-12) lost Tuesday to Lutheran South in the opening round, 63-55. In Thursday’s consolation semifinal, Festus hit a three-point basket with 1.1 seconds to play to beat Union, 50-47.
“Late down the stretch, I really was proud of how we executed defensively,” Union Head Coach Chris Simmons said. “We had three or four fouls to give. We gave those with 10, seven and three seconds to play. Defensively, we executed. The kid made a big shot late in the game, you’ve got to give him kudos for that.”
Looking for Wins
Simmons feels the Wildcats are close to picking up wins instead of just playing close.
“ We’re getting better at it,” Simmons said. “We’re improving. Tonight was a good step forward in that direction. Four of our last five games we’ve been in the game with a chance to pull it out going down the stretch. We haven’t been able to do it, but we’re trying to do things differently in learning how to win games. Tonight was a good step forward to doing that.”
And Simmons is hopeful Union’s next win can come Saturday.
“Our focus is coming out and playing our best,” Simmons said. “It doesn’t matter who we play. We have to come out and play to our highest level and continue to move forward.”
The Wildcats will play Jefferson, a 66-50 loser to Crystal City Thursday, in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. seventh-place game.
Jefferson lost to Pacific in the opening round, 71-32.
Festus plays its Twin Cities rival Crystal City in the consolation game Saturday at 4 p.m.
With the contest tied, Festus junior guard Travis Spraul sank a three-point basket with 1.1 seconds to play to lift the Tigers to the 50-47 victory.
Union had one final chance but couldn’t get into position for a final shot while going the length of the court.
The Wildcats did get a huge basket by Nick Ziegler with 1:11 to play, tying the score at 47-47. That erased what had been a nine-point deficit entering the fourth quarter, 43-34.
““I was really proud because we were patient and we got the shot we wanted,” Simmons said. “We didn’t force anything. We moved the ball and played as a team. Then Nick hit a big time shot.”
Festus also led after the first quarter, 13-8, and at the half, 24-20.
Union played well in spurts, but also had struggled for long stretches. That allowed the Tigers to lead for most of the game.
“Festus beat us by 27 earlier in the season,” Simmons said. “They just got us to turn over the ball a ton. Tonight we had our spurts where we turned the ball over, but I think we responded well. Instead of it becoming a 15-point deficit, it was four or six.”
TJ Vitt led the Wildcats in scoring with 17 points. He hit one three-point basket and was able to take advantage on the break.
Ziegler hit three three-point baskets in the game and ended with 13 points.
Also reaching doubled digits was Brandon Ford, who scored 11 points and was a major defensive presence near the basket with rebounds and blocked shots.
Union’s other tall player, Brian Borgmann, ended the game with three points.
Blake Hulsey earned his points on a basket and free throw late in the second quarter as the Wildcats trimmed a four-point Festus advantage to one. He took advantage of a missed Ford free throw to score and then was fouled himself.
Also playing were Ashton Dehn and Kory Lucas.
Spraul led the Tigers with 18 points and his game-winning three was the only shot he hit from beyond the arc.
Ali Abbas scored 16 points for Festus.
Robert Brewer chipped in with eight points, Kamau Kinder scored four, Andrew Hayden ended with three and Zach Stamps added a point.
For three quarters, the Wildcats were able to hang with second-seeded Lutheran South in a 63-55 first-round loss.
Take away the second quarter and Union actually outscored the Lancers, 42-40. But that second quarter proved to be a difference maker. Lutheran South outscored Union in that eight-minute stretch, 23-13.
That turned an 18-17 Lutheran South lead after one quarter into a 41-30 advantage at the intermission.
Union chipped away at the lead, cutting it to 50-44 after three quarters, but couldn’t pull off the upset.
The Wildcats were paced by four players who reached double digits in scoring.
Ziegler led the way with 12 points.
TJ Vitt netted 11 points.
Ford and Hulsey scored 10 points apiece.
Dehn contributed eight points.
Borgmann ended with four points.
Parker Van Nest led the Lancers with 23 points while going 9-10 from the field. He added four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Also reaching double digits was Brandon Downey with 13 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot.
Thomas Schultz closed with eight points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Trey Martin concluded the game with seven points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals.
Lezoghia Meneh and Dirk Otterstein scored six points apiece.
Lutheran South advanced to play Northwest in the semifinals. The Lions upset Festus in the other first-round game Tuesday.