Hitting the final 10 free throws, the St. Francis Borgia Regional Knights nudged past Union in the opening round of the Union Boys Basketball Tournament Tuesday, 61-56.
“It was a hard-fought win,” Borgia Head Coach Dave Neier said. “I thought Union played an exceptional game. They shot the ball very well. They were very active on defense and always play tough. They had a good plan coming into the game. They have a player like Trevor Kelly who is elusive and hard to guard.”
Neier indicated his team made plays at crucial times.
“Fortunately, we made some plays down at the end of the game and we were able to maintain the lead,” Neier said. “We put free throws in and were able to hit a couple of baskets. They kept coming back. It seemed like every time we would pull away, they would hit a three and it would be a one-possession game again. Our kids kept working and fortunately we came out with the win. It was two good teams battling each other and playing as hard as they can. It was a great atmosphere for a high school game and I think we put a great show on for the fans as it was an exceptional game.”
Union Head Coach Chris Simmons said his team played a strong game.
“I’m super proud of our kids,” Simmons said. “I thought both teams played hard and both teams played a great game. That’s what it’s supposed to be like. It’s supposed to be a battle. I thought Borgia beat us and Coach Neier had a great game plan. You’ve got to credit both teams because both played their hearts out. It just wasn’t over until the very last buzzer and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Our kids never backed down. We had the lead, we lost the lead and we kept fighting all night.”
Borgia (8-5) went 13-17 from the free-throw line in the game, including going 12-16 in the final quarter. It was exactly what the sixth-seeded Knights needed to upset No. 3 Union (10-6).
Both teams held the lead and Union fought against its traditional rival to stay within striking range down the stretch. Had Borgia faltered at the free-throw line, it could have been a much different outcome.
Borgia led 14-13 after one quarter and 28-26 at the half. The Knights were up 43-42 after three quarters.
It was the only meeting of the season between the two teams, who didn’t meet at the Borgia Turkey Tournament or the Washington Tournament. The two teams are not in the same district this year.
Borgia advanced to Friday’s semifinal against second-seeded Ft. Zumwalt South while Union moved to the consolation semifinals Thursday against Washington. It was the fourth meeting of the season between the two teams.
“They’re a very explosive team just laden with talent,” Neier said. “We’ve just got to do our best and go out and give ourselves a chance.”
Borgia had four players reach double digits in scoring and all four played key roles in different phases of the game.
Alex Brinkmann and Trent Strubberg each scored 15 points.
Brinkmann slashed to the basket and was 5-7 from the free-throw line. He was the only Knight to score in each quarter.
Strubberg had one three-point basket and went 6-6 from the free-throw line with all of his shots from the stripe in the final quarter.
“You’ve got to give Trent props,” Simmons said. “He hit six free throws in a row with deafening noise and we were down by a point. If he misses and we score, that changes the game. He was nails.”
Brendan Smith closed with 12 points with eight of those in the second half. Smith played in the high post early and worked down low for inside baskets later in the game.
Will Elbert was Borgia’s low post threat and he scored all 10 of his points in the first three quarters.
Max Meyers hit one of Borgia’s two three-point baskets and he knocked down a pair of free throws in the final quarter while ending with seven points.
Cole Weber contributed two points.
Wil Strubberg led Union in scoring with 16 points for the game, including a pair of three-point baskets. Strubberg was the only Union player to score in each quarter.
Union made nine threes for the game with five different players sinking those shots. Strubberg also was 2-2 from the free-throw line. For the game, Union went 5-7 from the stripe.
Trevor Kelly was next with 14 points, including a pair of three-point baskets. He scored 11 points in the second half, including six in the final quarter.
Jacob Towell netted 11 points with three three-point baskets. He had eight points in the second half.
Kale Crawford scored nine points. The post player stepped outside the arc to hit a three-point shot in the third quarter.
Peyton Burke scored four points, including a three-point basket. Mason Bailey provided important minutes and ended with two points.
“It was a complete team effort,” Simmons said. “I think every starter hit a three. Everyone gave us good minutes.”
Borgia opened the game by working the ball inside to Elbert while Union used outside shooting. The Wildcats took a 13-9 lead on Burke’s three-point shot with 1:53 to play in the opening quarter. Borgia struck back with a three from Trent Strubberg and a basket by Brinkmann to lead 14-13 after eight minutes.
Union went back ahead early in the second quarter when Bailey scored off of a steal. However, Borgia scored the next eight points before Crawford scored on a putback. The Knights enjoyed one of their biggest leads at 24-17, but Union chipped back and Kelly hit a long three-point basket at the halftime horn to cut the gap to 28-26.
Crawford scored the opening basket of the third quarter and the game was tied again 15 seconds into the third quarter.
Borgia retook the lead on a three-point play by Brinkmann. Union was able to come back midway through the quarter and retake the advantage on three-point shots by Crawford and Towell, going up 40-37 with 2:50 left in the quarter.
Borgia put the next six points on the board before Union stole the ball away near the end of the quarter and Kelly scored again. Borgia held a 43-42 lead going to the final quarter.
Brinkmann hit a pair of free throws, but Towell tied it on a three. Borgia scored the next five points. Brinkmann gave the Knights the lead for good with 4:52 to go. Meyers then scored on a jumper off of a screen. Brinkmann hit one of two free throws with 3:16 to play, making it 50-45.
After Towell hit another shot, Borgia went on its free-throw shooting run to close out the game.
“That’s always important,” Neier said. “It reminds me of the days of old, when we knew teams had to foul us and we were going to make free throws. We haven’t been that way this year, but we’re getting better.”
Simmons said his team will rebound.
“Losing hurts and it stinks, but you can’t live life on wins and losses,” Simmons said. “So, you leave it on the floor. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. It burns and it hurts, but there was nothing else we could have done.”
Simmons said the goal is improving for the rest of the season.
“Our goal is to hang a conference and a district banner in this gym and we’re working toward those things,” Simmons said. “This was a big step forward. Tonight was an exciting game. Five or six years ago, there weren’t many people in the stands and now you have a full house. The atmosphere was unbelievable. Every free throw was loud. You’ve got to give these kids credit. They represented their communities and schools in a topnotch way.”