PARK HILLS — The West County Bulldogs were at the top of their game on Thursday night, and now find themselves one win away from a district championship.
At the Class 3, District 3 Tournament in Park Hills, the top-seeded Bulldogs controlled the pace and were steadily efficient on offense while rolling to a 70-51 semi-final victory over No. 4 St. Pius.
West County (25-3) took instant command of the game by shooting 64 percent from the field in the first quarter. The Bulldogs committed just seven turnovers and hustled back defensively to slow down the potent transition game of the speedy Lancers.
Quick passing helped the Bulldogs break out to a 11-2 lead as John Barnett and Chris Mosier nailed back-to-back three-pointers from the left corner. Barnett muscled his way inside for another basket to create a 12-point spread and went on to score nine of his game-high 18 points during the opening stanza.
St. Pius (13-14) reduced the gap to seven on a three from sophomore Tyler Burke, but a floating jump shot at the buzzer by Jake Blair pushed the Bulldogs to a 21-10 advantage. Blair finished with 13 points.
West County led by 16 in the second quarter when Travis Graham slipped past the Lancer defense for a back-door layup, but a pair of Bulldog turnovers allowed St. Pius to mount its lone comeback threat as Burke and Scott Wensler raced to the basket for easy layups, trimming the margin to 30-20.
Following a timeout, the Bulldogs’ dominance resumed. Junior Brandon Dane hit a pair of shots in the low post over the final 2:00 of the first half to restore a 15-point difference at the break.
The third quarter saw St. Pius cut into its deficit on several occasions, but the Bulldogs responded each time at the other end. A three-point play by Corey Prindiville and a triple by Burke again brought the Lancers to within 12, but three-point counters by Blair and Jordan Miller helped West County end the period with a comfortable 52-36 lead.
The Bulldogs opened the fourth quarter with a 7-2 run to put the game away. Barnett put an exclamation point on the victory with a three-point play after slicing through the lane for a running scoop shot.
Sam Luebbers chipped in nine points and Mosier added eight for the Bulldogs, who shot 9-11 from the free-throw line.
Ryan Vallo drilled two late three-pointers and scored 11 points off the bench to lead St. Pius. Prindiville and Burke tossed in 10 points each.
Crystal City 44, Central 41
The second-seeded Central Rebels needed to claim victory in the second semi-final contest to set up an All-MAAA Conference championship on Friday, but No. 3 Crystal City had other ideas.
Central overcame a sluggish start on its home floor to carry a modest lead into the fourth quarter, but would suffer an even rougher ending as the Hornets posted an 11-4 scoring differential over the final eight minutes to escape with a 44-41 victory.
Crystal City (15-10) earned the right to face West County in the finals tonight at 7:30 p.m., despite a miserable 5-19 performance at the free-throw line. The Rebels managed only five attempts at the charity stripe, making two.
Central (16-13) risked feast or famine from the perimeter in the first quarter, rarely taking a shot from inside the three-point arc. Triples from Brock Boren and Keith Huff propelled the Rebels to a 6-2 lead, but Crystal City fought back by utilizing its strength inside.
Mike Tullock and Nate Strohkirch converted good entry passes into baskets to spark a 9-0 run by the Hornets. Tullock would give the Rebels fits throughout the night with his play in the post, including an offensive putback to close the first quarter as his team led 13-9.
The Rebels fell farther behind as their shooting woes continued into the second quarter. Brent Vaughn buried a three-pointer to give Crystal City its largest advantage of the night at 23-11.
As the contest grew more physical before halftime, the Rebels received a needed spark from their defense. Two separate scrambles on the court led to transition layups by Justin Forsythe and Huff, bringing Central to within 27-20 at intermission.
The Rebels wisely began to employ an inside attack in the third period which had been nonexistent. Brice Boren scored Central’s first three field goals of the second half, including a nice reverse layup to whittle the Hornets’ lead to 29-28. He then made a steal on the ensuing defensive series, resulting in a go-ahead basket by Huff.
Forsythe splashed in a three from the right wing as Central widened the margin to six, but Tullock answered with a pair of hard-fought baskets inside to bring Crystal City to within 37-33 at the close of the stanza.
Central suffered a scoreless drought of more than four minutes in the fourth quarter and watched its lead and season slip away in the process. Tullock cashed in on his own emphatic block with a basket to tie the game with 5:50 left.
The Rebels regained a 41-39 edge when Brice Boren rolled in a short jumper at the 1:49 mark, but untimely turnovers would prevent them scoring again.
The Hornets executed a flawless inbounds play to Wade Townsend out of a timeout to take a 42-41 lead with less than 1:00 to go. The Rebels burned plenty of time on the ensuing possession, but committed a crucial turnover with 15 seconds left, failing to get a shot away.
Central committed three quick fouls over the next seven seconds to eventually send Crystal City to the free-throw line. After Strohkirch rattled in 1-2 attempts to make it a two-point game, the Rebels called timeout with five seconds left to design a final shot. However, the Hornets stole an errant inbounds pass and tacked on another free throw to produce the final margin.
Tullock struggled at the line throughout the night, but was still a dominant force for Crystal City with 19 points and 14 rebounds. Strohkirch added eight points.
Huff led the Rebels in scoring with 12 points, while Brice Boren finished with 11 and Forsythe added eight.
St. Pius – 10 13 13 15 – 51
West County – 21 17 14 18 – 70
St. Pius – R Vallo 11, C Prindiville 10, T Burke 10, S Wensler 9, C Bisch 6, J Boyer 3, A Kennedy 2.
3-pointers – R Vallo 2, T Burke 2.
West County – J Barnett 18, J Blair 13, S Luebbers 9, C Mosier 8, T Graham 7, B Dane 6, J Miller 5, T Moore 2, B Robinson 2.
3-pointers – J Blair 2, C Mosier 2, J Barnett 1, J Miller 1, T Graham 1.
Crystal City – 13 14 6 11 – 44
Central – 9 11 17 4 – 41
Crystal City – M Tullock 19, N Strohkirch 8, B Vaughn 5, J Drury 4, W Townsend 3, S Johnson 2, J Williams 2, D Riney 1.
3-pointers – B Vaughn 1.
Central – K Huff 12, Bri Boren 11, J Forsythe 8, R McFarland 5, Bro Boren 3, G Clark 2.
3-pointers – J Forsythe 2, K Huff 1, Bro Boren 1, R McFarland 1.