In the previous 60 years of the St. Francis Borgia Pepsi Thanksgiving Tournament, Borgia and Washington had never met in a championship game.
The two teams always were split into separate divisions, making the matchup impossible.
And the Knights and the Blue Jays never hooked up when the tournament had just one division.
That changed this year.
While the tournament went back to two divisions, both teams were placed in the Gold Division and reached the championship game Saturday night.
Washington overcame an eight-point deficit midway through the third quarter to defeat Borgia, 53-46.
“It was a fun atmosphere,” Washington Head Coach Grant Young said. “Coaches, players and fans don’t get too many of those. It was great for the kids to have a chance to experience this and it was a great win for our kids.”
It was Washington’s 12th Turkey Tournament title and is thought to be the first time the Blue Jays have beaten the Knights since the 2007-08 season.
Washington senior guard Brad Carpenter was named the MVP of the Gold Division.
“It feels great to win the MVP, but it feels better to win the game. This is awesome. We’re going to enjoy it. Beating Borgia is a special thing. We don’t get a chance to do it very often,” Carpenter said. “The chance to play in this kind of game is awesome. It’s a great experience. Hopefully it can propel our team forward for the rest of the season.”
Young feels this is the type of win which could propel the Blue Jays to a big season.
“The good thing is that games like this help to prepare you for the postseason when it comes to district time,” Young said. “I thought our kids did great. It was a total team effort. We had to step up to the physicality and box out and do our jobs individual on the defensive end by talking, making sure we were getting our matchups and making sure we were finding our man and boxing out. In the second half, we did.”
The Blue Jays (3-0) outscored the Knights 32-17 over the final 12 minutes of the game, which included a 13-0 run in a span of just over four minutes late in the third quarter and into the fourth.
“Brad and Ronnie (Suggs) both had some very big shots at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth quarter to get us the lead,” Young said. “I really thought that caused Borgia to take some quick shots on offense and they weren’t as patient in their offense. That allowed us to get in the break and extend our lead a little bit.”
The Knights (2-1) led 24-19 at halftime and increased their advantage to 29-21 on a three-pointer by Walt Eckelkamp with 4:37 remaining in the third quarter, but went cold from there.
“We played extremely well in the first half, especially defensively. We just were cold shooting the ball. We got in some foul trouble in the first quarter and were worried about a couple of our players, so we got out of our press for a while,” said Borgia Head Coach Dave Neier. “You have to give credit to their big guns who really carried them. (Ronnie) Suggs and (Brad) Carpenter hit some big shots in the third quarter and going into the fourth quarter to give them the lead. That was hard to overcome.”
For the game, Borgia was 4-26 from three-point range and 18-60 overall from the field.
“You’re not going to win many games when you’re shooting like that,” Neier said. “We could have extended our lead in the first half and maybe put a little more pressure on them.”
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays made some big shots during their second-half run. They finished the game 8-15 from three-point territory.
The third quarter ended with the Blue Jays in the middle of their 13-0 run.
Suggs drilled a three-pointer with three seconds left, increasing Washington’s lead to 36-32.
Carpenter and Suggs both hit three-pointers to start the fourth quarter, making the score 42-32 with 4:50 remaining on the clock.
“Ronnie hit a couple of big threes from the top of the key,” Carpenter said. “That’s Ronnie for you.”
Borgia stopped the bleeding on a three-pointer by Zac Schweissguth to make the score 42-35 with 4:03 left, but the damage had been done.
“You always know that a Borgia team is going to work hard and fight to the end,” Young said. “They’re always going to give you pressure. Our kids turned it over a few times, but I thought over the whole game we handled it well. We really adjusted in the second half to find the gaps in that 1-2-2 in the middle and get Ronnie into the high post to get touches and get to the free-throw line when we needed to do it.”
The Knights got as close as 46-40 on a three-point play by Schweissguth with 1:33 left, but the Blue Jays were able to secure the lead.
“That boost of extending the lead allowed our kids to get more relaxed,” Young said. “We were really tense in the first half. When we weren’t finding shots, we weren’t getting our looks. When we had the lead, we could relax and get the looks we needed.”
Borgia held small leads throughout the first half.
With the Knights holding a 12-8 advantage after one quarter, their biggest lead of the first half was six points and the halftime margin was five.
Borgia center Joe Helfrich made a big difference in the first half with his scoring and rebounding. He suffered a cut to the bridge of his nose just before the half, but came out and played the entire second half with the nose bandaged.
Five points by Eckelkamp gave the Knights the eight-point lead to start the third quarter.
But a pair of three-pointers by Carpenter started Washington’s run.
Crashing the Boards
Rebounding made a big difference for the Blue Jays in the second half.
“Borgia really outworked us on the boards in the first half,” said Young. “That was a big key. We said we had to outwork them on the boards in the second half and only allow them one shot per possession. We could not allow them to score by outworking us on the rebounds. We did that.”
Suggs knew the Blue Jays had to improve.
“We had to be stronger on the boards. I don’t know how many rebounds Joe (Helfrich) got in the first half, but he was really good. We did a better job rebounding in the second half,” Suggs said. “We locked up on Walton better and just played better defense.”
Neier agreed that rebounds were a big part of the game.
“We were controlling the rebounding with Joe Helfrich, Adam Meyer and Kevin Birk. They all came up with some key rebounds,” Neier said. “In the second half, Washington took that away and they ended up getting some key offensive rebounds. Sometimes you worry about losing a game instead of trying to win. We lost that aggressiveness and they picked up on it. They played harder than we did in the second half.”
Carpenter led Washington in the scoring column with 20 points. He nailed four three-pointers and was 6-6 from the free-throw line.
Suggs added 15 points, knocking down three three-pointers.
Patrick Menke finished the game with six points. Mike Morgan added five points.
Jacob Mulkey scored three points. Austin Subke and Trey Walsh both had two points.
“Jacob picked up his third foul late in the second quarter,” Young said. “In the second half, we decided we were going to go with him. As a senior, he’s played a lot of varsity minutes. He did a great job in the second half by keeping composed.”
Carpenter, Suggs and Mulkey were named to the all-tournament team.
“I told Brad to be ready because I was going to drive and they’ll collapse on me, and he was ready,” Suggs said. “Brad deserves the attention he’s getting. He hit eight threes in our last game. When he does that, he deserves it.”
Young hopes the win is a sign of things to come.
“We came into this game and treated it like any other game we’re going to play,” Young said. “Really, to me, how we played in the second half can jolt us up and show us how we can play. Hopefully this will make the kids hungry to want more.”
Eckelkamp paced Borgia with 15 points, three rebounds and two steals. Helfrich added 10 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Schweissguth collected eight points, four steals and two assists.
Luke Deline registered five points and two steals. Kevin Birk and Adam Meyer both scored four points. Birk added two rebounds.
Helfrich and Schweissguth represented Borgia on the all-tournament team.
“We have a pretty young team. We have some guys who played last year, but we have a lot of new faces, too,” Neier said. “This has to be a great learning tool for us. To have this opportunity to play in such a big game early in the year, it can only make you better.”