CRYSTAL CITY – The West County boys basketball program had reached four consecutive district title games under sixth-year coach Chad Mills, only to somehow fall short each time on championship night.
But three dominant quarters of action in the Class 3, District 3 finals would break that frustrating streak on Friday night, as the Bulldogs resisted a furious comeback attempt by upstart Kennedy for a 45-38 victory.
Junior Zac Priest ignited the West County offense with baskets or assists off dribble penetration, and scored a game-high 13 points. Torey Watson tallied 10 points and Tyler Stacy added nine points with four assists in the victory.
The Bulldogs collected their fifth district title in school history and first since 1997, and will meet either Maplewood or Cardinal Ritter on Wednesday in a 6 p.m. state sectional at Jefferson College.
Both teams were content playing a deliberate pace from the opening tip, but West County kept the Celts out of rhythm throughout the first half with tremendous rebounding and steady defense.
Kennedy (5-18), which advanced to the finals as a surprising No. 5 seed, totaled only four rebounds and was limited to four made field goals before halftime, including a pair of three-pointers from senior Tom Simon.
Priest began the second quarter with a third-chance putback, then scored a reverse layup from a tough angle to build momentum for the Bulldogs. Trevor Morgan drilled two mid-range jumpers on patient trips, and West County carried a 20-12 advantage into halftime.
Kennedy insisted on playing defense inside the three-point arc during the third quarter, and saw its deficit gradually increase. Priest earned free throws on two straight possessions, then dished to Watson for a key baseline jumper.
Trevor Kean gave the Bulldogs a decisive 32-16 lead heading into the fourth after making his second triple of the night, but Kennedy used sudden pressure defense to rattle West County into four turnovers over two-minute span of the fourth.
Kohlberg cut the difference to 39-29 on a three with 2:19 left, and Dan Rapp converted a frontcourt steal into an acrobatic reverse layup with 1:08 remaining to make it 41-35.
The Celts missed a chance to draw even closer after the Bulldogs were guilty of a traveling violation, and Priest finally sealed the outcome with two free throws to finish 7-for-10 from the charity stripe.
Simon and Kohlberg each scored 11 points to pace the Celts, who upset top-seed Herculaneum 39-38 in the semifinal round, and were enjoying a recent resurgence after losing 14 straight contests earlier this season.
Kennedy 6 6 4 22 – 38
West County 10 10 12 13 – 45
Kennedy – Simon 11, Kohlberg 11, Luedeke 9, Cusick 8, Rapp 2. 3-point FG – Simon 3, Kohlberg 2, Luedeke 2.
West County – Priest 13, Watso 10, Stacy 9, Kean 7, Morgan 6. 3-point FG – Kean 2, Stacy.