Tolton Catholic might be new to the Archdiocesan Athletic Association Large Division, but it’s already established its credentials in boys basketball.
The Trailblazers (6-1) improved to 3-0 in league play Friday with a 57-45 win over St. Francis Borgia Regional (5-6, 1-3) Friday at the Ray DeGreeff Memorial Gymnasium.
“They are very talented and they do a lot of good things,” Borgia Head Coach Dave Neier said. “They move the ball very well. They spread you out on defense and they have great quickness as far as trying to get around people. They know where the shooters are and they try to get you out of position. They’re very good at finding the open shooters and that was a big difference. They also rebound well. There were times we would play great defense and then give up an offensive rebound and they ended with an easy shot. If we could have held them to one shot, that could have been a big difference in the ballgame.”
Tolton already owns road wins over St. Dominic and defending division champion St. Mary’s. The Trailblazers still have to go to Cardinal Ritter and all teams have to make the trip to Columbia.
Borgia was able to keep Tolton from running away with Friday night’s game and the Knights fought in their home gym to stay within a run of the visitors.
“We just couldn’t quite get over the hump,” Neier said. “When you can get the lead down, you start putting pressure on them. We got it down to six a few times. We felt that if we could have gotten it below five, we might have gotten them to think about it. It seems that’s when we made a mistake and gave them an open shot or a turnover with an easy shot. That’s the sign of a good team that they handled the pressure. Our kids did fight the whole game and we had our opportunities. We just have to keep going as a team and getting better. The competition we play this season is outstanding. The kids have to keep working hard and good things could happen.”
Tolton wasn’t overly flashy, but managed to assert itself with solid fundamental play on both ends of the court.
“They just have all of the components of a good team,” Neier said. “They have nice size and good athletes. They just do a lot of good things on the court. Defensively, they can put pressure on you, but out of the pressure and double teams, they can make up and cover. You don’t get an open shot easily.”
Borgia also showed more patience offensively. Many times earlier in the season, the Knights would come down the floor and quickly fire up a three-point attempt. This time, Borgia moved the ball around and looked for offensive openings.
“They were tough to score on inside,” Neier said. “Most of the game, they had great presence inside and we had to be patient to get the shot we wanted and put a little bit of pressure on them. That’s going to have to be our identity. We have to run an offense. We play a lot of very talented teams on our schedule. We have to have patience on offense. We will have to control the tempo.”
Tolton led 10-8 after one quarter, 27-18 at the half and 41-33 through three quarters.
The Knights were paced offensively by Brendan Smith, who scored 14 points with seven rebounds, three blocked shots, two steals and one assist.
Alex Brinkmann recorded 13 points with five rebounds, five assists, one blocked shot and one steal.
Cole Weber was next with a pair of three-point baskets for his six points. He also had three rebounds and three assists.
Trent Strubberg added five points, four assists and three rebounds.
Will Elbert was next with four points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
Max Meyers added three points, one rebound and a steal.
Borgia struggled from beyond the three-point arc, hitting five of 14 attempts. The Knights were 6-13 from the free-throw line.
“Early in the season, we thought we were going to be a pretty good free-throw shooting team,” Neier said. “Then some guys started missing and it spread throughout the team. We’ve got to get it going back the other way. If we’ve got a lead late in the game, we want to get fouled and go to the free-throw line. Right now, we’re thinking about it. We have to have the confidence to put it in.”
Junior Jonny Berndt led Tolton in scoring with 12 points, all on three-point baskets.
Freshman Jevon Porter and senior Beau Washer each scored 10 points. Porter also reached double digits in rebounds.
Juniors Coban Porter and Deuce Tatum scored nine points apiece.
Junior Nate Schwartze was next with six points.
Junior Chase Martin added one point.
The Trailblazers knocked down six three-point baskets, four of them by Berndt. Tolton went 5-7 from the free-throw line.
Borgia’s Elbert scored the game’s first basket, but the Trailblazers grabbed the momentum soon after. Tolton had the oddity of having a Washer shot get stuck between the hoop and backboard.
Borgia netted the final two baskets of the quarter by Strubberg and Smith to cut it to 10-8 after eight minutes.
Brinkmann tied the game 29 seconds into the second quarter, driving the lane for a layup.
Tolton responded with a 17-2 run, ended by a Jevon Porter dunk.
It was 27-12 before Meyers and Brinkmann hit three-point baskets to close out the half. Brinkmann’s three bounced in at the buzzer to cut it to 27-18 at the half. Tolton led 41-33 after three quarters.
Borgia kept the gap within 10 points for part of the fourth quarter and had chances to get even closer, but couldn’t execute.