Since 2010, no team has dominated the Borgia Pepsi Thanksgiving Tournament like the McCluer North Stars.
So, it was fitting that McCluer North raised the championship trophy Saturday night with a 59-52 win over top-seeded Pacific.
Trevor Laney, and his predecessor Randy Reed, have possessed the winning formula for the past eight seasons, winning five titles and finishing second twice.
Seeded third, the Stars upset two higher-seeded local teams in the final two rounds. McCluer North made host Borgia look bad in the third quarter of Friday’s semifinal game, shutting out the Knights, 19-0.
In the title contest, the Stars rebounded from a deficit at the end of the third quarter to come back and win.
A’Tavian Butler scored 10 of his team-high 18 points in that fourth-quarter rally to earn his MVP award.
The Stars had a number of outstanding players in the tournament. Patrick Evans and Steve Lee joined Butler on the all-tournament team, although there were others who were in contention as well.
Hopefully for the Stars, this won’t be the high point of the season. Last year’s team went 12-14 after finishing second here. I know they play some tough competition, but hopefully this will be the push that team needs to succeed.
Second-place Pacific had a strong tournament as well. The Indians nearly pulled off the win, which would have been their first Turkey Tournament title since 2000. Pacific proved it’s one of the top area teams.
We know what Cameron VanLeer is capable of doing and he was the go-to player during the event. Hopefully he won’t have the same type of injury issues as last season.
The player on Pacific’s team who really impressed was Tom Hennessy. His Turkey Tournament performance was the type of breakout that Pacific’s coaching staff has wanted to see. Both VanLeer and Hennessy were deserving all-tournament picks.
For Pacific to continue having that success, there has to be additional scoring. Matt Strong definitely is capable of providing that spark as are Joey Casey, Jordan Cowsert and Trey Boyer. Ryan Sauvage played tough inside on a guard-dominated team.
Pacific was the coaches’ pick to win the Four Rivers Conference title this year and many of the other coaches were in attendance at different times during the event. After seeing Pacific play, they know they’ll have their hands full with Pacific this season.
Borgia finished third and it probably was a fitting finish for the host team. Borgia really struggled for much of the second half of Friday’s semifinal against McCluer North, which was nothing new to anyone who saw the jamboree.
Borgia is a team still in transition. It’s going to take a bit for the Knights to find their identity, especially when they get flustered. The Knights have plenty of size, but guard play let down at times.
Jacob Unnerstall and Eli Marquart were the all-tournament selections. Alex Brinkmann also impressed at times and the junior forward duo of Brendan Smith and Will Elbert kept teams from getting many second chances.
A positive for Borgia was that the Knights held opposing teams to 121 points in three games, an average of 40.3 points per game. If they can do that throughout the season, they’ll win a lot of games.
Borgia also isn’t at full strength. They’ll get a pair of seniors, Hunter Mehler and Jason Peters, back at some point. Mehler is the team’s top returning scorer.
I’m going to skip to the consolation winner for right now because Washington was the only other local team in the event.
The Blue Jays picked up a nice win against Normandy in overtime to take the consolation title. Grant Young’s team had to play without its top scorer from last year, Conlan Jarvis. He missed the start of the season due to an injury suffered during the soccer season.
Cason Suggs impressed throughout the tournament and was an easy selection for the all-tournament team. Overall, the upperclassmen, including Zach Harms and Tommy Ruether, played with confidence. The Jays had an impressive debut from freshman Ryan Hoerstkamp as well.
Quick thoughts about the other teams:
• St. Louis Christian Blue finished fourth. This was a second team from that school as their top squad was playing in a tournament in Washington, Ill. Charles Rahming was the all-tournament selection, but somehow didn’t play much in the final game. The team finished where it was seeded.
• Normandy was sixth, although the Vikings were competitive throughout the tournament. Seeded eighth, Britt Booker was the all-tournament selection and I’m sure the win over North Tech was the highlight for Normandy.
• North Tech seemed to be its own worst enemy. The Golden Eagles struggled to execute, especially at the free-throw line. Unforced errors also cost the team frequently, but that’s expected for the beginning of the season. Getting a win out of the final game had to be the highlight. Maurice Willis made the all-tournament team, but Cedric Perry also impressed at times.
• St. Louis Blue Knights — The homeschool team seemed to be massively overmatched early and settled through the final two games. Borgia tore up the Blue Knights in the opener, but the team improved each game. By all rights, it had a good chance to win the seventh-place game, but only having seven players come really hurt in an up-and-down fast-paced game. We almost found out what happens if you don’t have five eligible players as they ended the game with two who fouled out. Patrick Baalman was solid throughout the tournament and Jeremiah Reed showed a lot of talent. Eli Siecinski, one of the two who played the last team the program brought to the Turkey Tournament, also had flashes.
So what is the future of the Turkey Tournament?
The time is coming soon when the tournament might not be played until the week after Thanksgiving, due to new MSHSAA changes to the start of winter practices. That’s nothing new. MSHSAA has done that before, but the traditional Thanksgiving Tournaments have been able to be waivered to take place.
Personally, I would like to see the tournament take place on Thanksgiving Week. However, there wouldn’t be many schools still willing to compete in the tournament because they wouldn’t be able to get the required practices in before the event start.
Why can’t the football season be shortened by a week? The new 15-week format has stretched the season out. There’s no reason either the jamboree could be removed or the playoffs could either start earlier or have a shortened playoff. Either start the eight-team playoffs in Week 9 or limit the actual state series to the top four teams in each district starting in Week 10. The bottom four teams in each district could have a final consolation game.
As far as teams I would like to see return to the tournament next year, the three local teams are musts. Borgia will be there and there needs to be everything done to keep Pacific and Washington in the event.
From there, in order, would be McCluer North (always competitive), Normandy (better than its seed), North Tech (usually better than this year), St. Louis Christian (good skill) and the St. Louis Blue Knights (seemed to be overmatched at times).
Unfortunately, the bottom five teams don’t bring much in the way of fans. It’s not a neighborhood game for any of them and there just isn’t the atmosphere as with the three area schools playing.
Many of the other area schools were there. Hopefully they’ll want to be a part of the tradition in upcoming years instead of coming to watch. It will make the tournament better in the long run.