LEADWOOD – The West County basketball team could never quite pull away from Valle Catholic, but it maintained a steady advantage down the stretch by frequently reaching the line.
The Bulldogs made 8-of-14 free throws in the fourth quarter, and benefited from 21 team fouls against the Warriors in a 66-56 victory on Friday.
West County (10-8, 4-0) clinched a share of the MAAA Small-School title by handing Valle Catholic (9-9, 2-1) its first conference loss of the season.
Noah Vinson earned a trip to the stripe on the opening possession of the final quarter after Luke Ritter was called for the 7th team foul on an over-the-back call. Vinson split the chances for a 52-45 lead, and paced all players with 25 points for West County.
The Bulldogs gradually built onto their advantage by intercepting entry passes to spark fast-break opportunities.
Ryan Retzer blocked a layup, then hurried to the other end to bury a 3-pointer and create a 62-50 lead with four minutes to play. He posted 13 points, six rebounds and four blocks in the win.
Valle Catholic looked inside on nearly every trip during the closing minutes, but a bulk of its entry passes were poked loose.
Carter Hoog capped scoring by sinking his second 3-pointer with 15 seconds remaining, and finished with 11 points plus six rebounds for the Warriors. Mason Skaggs produced 17 points, while Chase Dunlap tallied 11 points plus six rebounds.
Valle Catholic generated an early edge behind an effective perimeter attack, while the Bulldogs were hindered by careless passing along the arc.
West County achieved its initial lead of 11-10 after a Reid Pratt steal led to a putback by Retzer in transition with 3:20 to play in the first quarter. Pratt provided an energetic presence with four steals and three blocks.
The Bulldogs never trailed again, and increased its offensive pace to widen the margin. Vinson drilled a corner 3-pointer on the opening possession of the second period for a 20-15 edge, and Retzer followed with his third block.
West County struggled with turnovers against full-court pressure, but retaliated with its own stingy defense in the post.
Ritter received a technical foul for shoving Vinson while battling for a rebound with five minutes to play in the second quarter. Vinson completed a 3-point play two minutes later make the lead 31-21.
Valle Catholic starting forward Bryce Palmer exited the game two minutes prior to halftime after hurting his hand while trying to secure an offensive rebound. The Warriors trailed 38-27 at intermission after Dunlap converted two free throws.
Valle Catholic finished 17-of-19 from the stripe, while West County ended 12-of-21.
The Bulldogs were more methodical in the third quarter, and the Warriors slowly chipped away at the lead. Hoog sank a shot from three feet beyond the arc, and trimmed the deficit to 51-44 with 17 seconds on the clock.
Nathan Hollock provided a game-high 10 rebounds for the Bulldogs.
Aaron Doza ended with nine pints for Valle Catholic.
West County will attempt to complete a perfect 5-0 conference record against Bismarck on Tuesday. Valle Catholic will travel to Valley.