The St. James boys basketball team made the trip up to Hermann for their tournament championship on Saturday, Jan. 26. The Tigers couldn't get shots to fall early on and couldn't dig their way out of a big hole in a 63-44 loss.
The Tigers were moving the ball well on the offensive end on Saturday night, but shots just weren't falling. Hermann opened the contest on a 7-0 run, before a three from Austin Ridenhour finally got St. James on the board. Unfortunately for St. James, they weren't able to get much more to fall. A free throw from Andrew Branson and a bucket from Tyler Recker were the only remaining points in the quarter, as Hermann ran out to a 20-6 lead at the end of the first.
St. James was able to get a few more shots to fall in the second, but the ball just wasn't bouncing their way. Logan Chick knocked down a pair of threes, while Ridenhour added another three as the Tigers' only field goals in the quarter. St. James added five more points from the free throw line, but Hermann seemed to have a response for every Tiger basket. The Bearcats led by as many as 18 points in the quarter, but Ridenhour's three late cut the score to 35-20 at the half.
The Tigers kept grinding in the second half, but they couldn't dig their way out of that early hole. St. James got within 12 points after an early three by Drew Moritz, but Hermann was able to stretch their lead back out. Hermann led by as many as 21 points in the quarter, as they put the game away. The Bearcats stretched that lead out to 25 in the fourth, finishing off a 63-44 win over St. James.
"It's frustrating for them whenever they're not hitting shots and you feel like you're getting good looks at it," said head coach Ben Smith. "It was a tough adjustment. Hermann did a really good job of making shots early on. You wanna play your best, obviously, and we didn't feel like we did. That's a credit to Hermann of doing a good job keeping their tempo where they wanted it and not letting us get turnovers and easy baskets. Hopefully it's a learning experience."
One thing that complicated things for St. James was the loss of Mason Parker. Parker was forced to the sideline with an injury late in the first and he never returned. The Tigers missed his presence on both sides of the ball in the loss.
"Mason just does so much. It's really underappreciated just how much more efficient he makes us," said coach Smith. "I thought we had a chance there at the end of the second quarter, cutting into their lead and maybe get some momentum going into the second half. If we had converted on a couple of what I thought were good looks for us. We came out in the second half and the kids were not quite as comfortable as we normally and a lot of that was not having Mason out there to run the point. It definitely hurt."
Branson led St. James with 17 points in the win. Recker added seven, while Ridenhour and Chick each chipped in with six. Moritz and Tate Whitener each scored three points, while Dante Poole added two.
"I thought our guys kept battling, didn't give up and tried to stay in it, but sometimes it's just not your night," said coach Smith. "I thought we tipped a lot of basketballs, got our hands on it, but just couldn't secure it and get stops. It seemed like when the ball bounced, it bounced in Hermann's favor. It's a credit to the guys that they kept working."
The Tigers have an important stretch of games to finish off their regular season. Next up is a rematch with Licking on Tuesday, Jan. 29. The rest of their schedule is a lineup of Four Rivers Conference games with a District opponent - Steelville - thrown in the mix as well. St. James will end the regular season with a rematch with Hermann at home on Feb. 15.
"We just have to look at ourselves and clean up some little things that we're doing that we can do consistently. It's not necessarily what the other team is doing, but us executing the things that we do," said coach Smith. "Our schedule from here on out is tough, but they're all important games. Conference games are right ahead, a District opponent, of course we have a rematch with Licking. We have to put this one behind us. We'll go in and focus on a few things we need to work on. Hopefully we'll maintain our confidence and get back to playing the ball we want to play."