Late in the third quarter, the Union basketball Wildcats held an 18-point lead over St. Clair in the opening round of the Class 4 District 6 Tournament Saturday in Union.
The Wildcats needed all of that lead as St. Clair roared back in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to one point and have a chance to win the game.
Union (12-14) survived the last-second shot to win, 48-46, and advance to Tuesday’s semifinal against second-seeded Borgia.
“It’s a game where we’re confident we can compete,” Union Head Coach Chris Simmons said. “They’re playing really well right now and Coach (Dave) Neier will have them ready to go. We’re going to go out and give it our best shot and leave it all on the line. We’ve got to play fearless, play for each other and see where it goes.”
St. Clair finished its season with a 5-19 record and momentum for next year.
“We came out flat in the third quarter and they jumped on us,” St. Clair Head Coach Tim Isgrig said. “We took a timeout and talked about whether we were going to quit on the season or we were going to fight all the way to the finish. I was glad with the decision the kids made. They played as good as they have all year at the end. We were giving ourselves wide open baskets because we were attacking.”
Union, the third seed, led 11-9 after one quarter and built up the lead to 22-13 at the half. Another surge in the third quarter gave Union its biggest lead with 1:34 left in the third quarter, 35-17. However, that’s when St. Clair started its comeback.
The Union lead was 16 points, 38-22, after three quarters. However, St. Clair found the range in the final quarter.
“The first and fourth quarters were really good for us,” Isgrig said. “The first quarter, we came out and we followed exactly what we wanted on the scouting report and we took away a lot of their strengths. In the fourth quarter, we had a senior, Jayce Decker, who did not want his career to end. He made a bunch of shots for us, he attacked and he played like a senior is supposed to play. It’s hard for him to end his season right now because of the game he played.”
“We got away from what we were doing, I thought,” Simmons said. “In the first quarter, I expected a little bit of rust because we hadn’t played in eight days. In the second and third quarters, I thought we played really well. We were up by 18 and defensively we got away from what we were doing. I thought we were guarding the ball screen really well and making them score over our size. But, we got away from that and allowed them to start kicking it out for the open threes. They did the same thing they did the first time we played them. They got open looks and knocked them down.”
Decker was on fire in the fourth quarter. He scored 26 points for the game. He knocked down six three-point baskets, including four in the fourth quarter. He netted 18 points in the final quarter alone.
Decker also had four assists and a rebound.
“He put us on his shoulders and tried to carry us to the finish line,” Isgrig said.
If Decker wasn’t hitting the shots, sophomore Calvin Henry was. He knocked down two of his four three-point baskets during the comeback in the fourth quarter and closed with 14 points for the game.
Henry added three assists and two rebounds.
For the game, St. Clair hit 10 three-point baskets and went 4-10 from the free-throw line.
“They did a good job, especially in that fourth quarter,” Simmons said. “They didn’t quit. They fought and hit shots and defensively they got shots. I thought we played not to lose rather than to win. That wasn’t the plan, but it seemed like we were just trying to get the game done. It took us out of our flow completely offensively. It’s just a situation as a young team where we haven’t had a lot of games where we’re up 20. Experienced teams close games out. We can be that, but we have to learn how to do it.”
With Union leading and about five seconds to play, St. Clair had an inbounds play right under the basket. Isgrig said the play had multiple options and the ball ended up in Decker’s hands for an outside chance. His shot bounced off with Union securing the rebound just before time expired.
“We put that play in two days ago,” Isgrig said. “It’s a shooter coming out the opposite way with three other guys who could attack. We put ourselves into a pretty good situation. It just didn’t work out for us. We wanted to take what the defensive gave us. We had a pretty good look there.”
Union was paced by junior Trevor Kelly, who scored 23 points. He hit three of Union’s eight three-point baskets in the game.
Sophomore Peyton Burke scored 12 points with two three-point baskets.
Junior Jacob Towell hit three three-point shots and closed with nine points.
Sophomore Caleb Mabe and junior Kale Crawford each had two points.
Union went 4-9 from the free-throw line.
For St. Clair, junior Kamalei Bursey added four points, seven rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Junior Tyler Stark had two points, four steals, three assists and two rebounds.
Junior Pepper Stark contributed five rebounds and an assist.
Juniors Timmy Hoffman and Michael Hughes each had two rebounds.
Senior Clay Banderman pulled down a rebound.
St. Clair graduates two players, Decker and Banderman, from this team.