The St. James girls basketball team (10-10) had the deck stacked against them heading into their matchup with West County on Tuesday, Jan. 29. The Lady Tigers were fresh off a 45-44 loss to Francis Howell the night before and were without Savanna Riccetti, who is out indefinitely with an ankle injury. West County also entered the game with 13 straight wins. St. James fought through that adversity and more as the game went on to grind out a 56-49 win.
Tuesday's game started as a back and forth affair, as neither team led by more that five points in the opening quarter. St. James hit a few big shots early, which included St. James building a five point lead on the back of a three by Aly Bullock followed by baskets from Mikaela Donnelly and Hannah Marcee with 2:35 left to play in the first. West County punched right back and finished the quarter with seven straight points to claim a 15-13 lead at the end of the first.
St. James was able to eliminate that lead on an early three from Ashlyn Rinehart, but West County controlled most of the quarter. The Lady Bulldogs led by as many as nine in the quarter, as St. James started to get into foul trouble. Heading into the half, Rinehart had racked up three fouls, while three different Lady Tigers had two fouls. On top of that, Bailey Wells had an asthma attack just before the half and she wasn't able to return in the second half. St. James went into the half with a lot of adversity in a 34-27 hole.
Things weren't looking good for the Lady Tigers early in the third quarter, as H. Marcee picked up two quick fouls to bring her total in the game to four, which sent the sent the sophomore to the bench for most of the quarter. West County built their lead out to 11 points two minutes into the quarter, but St. James wasn't going to give up yet. First Donnelly hit a pair of free throws, before a bucket by Rinehart cut the score to 40-33. Riley Whitener then knocked down a three with 3:12 left, before hitting a layup 45 seconds later to cut the deficit to two. West County was able to get on the board again with 1:43 left to play in the third after being held off the scoreboard for over four minutes. Rinehart followed that basket with a three to cut the deficit to one, before Donnelly gave St. James the lead with a layup with 1:10 left to play. After a West County free throw, Donnelly hit another layup with 34 seconds left, before Hunter Pitts finished the quarter with a steal and score at the buzzer. After starting the quarter trailing by seven points, St. James led 47-43 heading into the fourth.
The Lady Tigers had all the momentum going into the fourth and they never surrendered it. St. James maintained their lead throughout the fourth on the back of excellent defense and the continued offensive run of Donnelly and Rinehart. The Lady Tigers held West County to just six points in the quarter, while Rinehart scored five points and Donnelly added another four as St. James sealed a 56-49 win. Head coach Terry Wells was proud of the way his team fought through adversity and how his seniors really stepped up when they needed to in the win.
"If there was ever a team win, this was it. Different kids are going to step up at different times. I thought Ash did a good job finishing the game, I thought Miki Donnelly had one of her better games of the season," said coach Wells. "I'm proud of them for this. This is a lot of circumstances. Bailey and Savanna are a lot of brains, a lot of basketball brains out there, and having them off the floor and for the other girls to just put in a brute effort against a pretty good ball team was pretty impressive."
Donnelly led St. James with 15 points in the win, while Rinehart added another 13. Whitener chipped in with eight points, while H. Marcee had seven. Aly Bullock had five points, while A. Marcee, Pitts, Wells and Caily Sanders each had two points. While Sanders didn't have a huge night statistically, her performance was important as she filled in for Riccetti at the point.
"I'm pretty sure Savanna had started 75 games where we walked out on the court and she was my starting point guard in a row, or in that neighborhood. For Caily to step out there and do the job she did, I'm super proud of her," said coach Wells. "Tough effort. She did a really fine job."
St. James had to deal with a lot of adversity in the win over West County, but one that was noteworthy in the second half was their foul trouble. With a short bench and several players in foul trouble, the Lady Tigers just figured out how to grind out a win. Coach Wells knew that his team would keep fighting no matter what the situation was.
"You just do the best you can at that point. You run short on options and you go with what you have and you tell the kids to go and fight," said the St. James head coach. "That's one thing about this group is that they never lack that fight and that effort. They're going to get after you until the buzzer sounds. When you do that, you're never out of it until the time runs out."
This has a chance to be a defining moment for St. James as they head down the home stretch. The Lady Tigers have six games left, all of which are Four Rivers Conference matchups. Coach Wells isn't banking on this game defining their season, but he hopes it shows his team what they can do.
"I thought that about Union, then we lose another one to Francis Howell," said Wells when asked if this game has the chance to be a crucial moment in their season. "The fact is that we have six games left and all six teams are good. We can play well and lose. We didn't play that bad against Francis Howell except for the last couple of minutes when we made some mistakes.
"We're going to have a fight on our hands every game down the stretch," continued the St. James head coach. "We're going to come out on the good end of those and we're going to come out on the bad end of those. Our goal is to just be the best we can, keep improving and when the State Tournament gets here and you have to earn another game, we want to be ready."
St. James will host Pacific on Thursday, Jan. 31, before two straight road games against St. Clair and Owensville.