St.?Joe makes a memory against NR
FREMONT – Ryan Williams had made a free throw, and had another coming. A little more than two seconds remained, but the pressure was off Williams and his teammates.
The Streaks led New Riegel, 59-54, and were on the verge of handing the Blue Jackets their first league loss.
But it meant even more than that to St. Joe’s players. Realizing that, Streaks’ coach Jonathon Will called a timeout.
“I told them, ‘I want you to enjoy this,'” Will said. “I asked every single kid, before the game started, ‘What’s your biggest basketball memory at St. Joe?’ And I had nine or 10 kids look at me and they couldn’t give me an answer.
“I think nine or 10 of those kids right now have got the same answer, and that’s gonna be beating New Riegel.”
When the final buzzer sounded, the St. Joe student section rushed the floor. Beating the Blue Jackets had special meaning to the players and the fans – the Streaks’ seniors had never beaten New Riegel.
“For us seniors, we were 0-3 against them, so we definitely wanted to get this one,” said guard Connor Dudley, who had 18 points Friday night. “And then we also knew, it was reality check time.”
That’s because a loss would have been devastating to St. Joe’s Midland Athletic League hopes. A loss would have given the Streaks two losses, and put them two games behind front-running Old Fort and New Riegel. By beating the Blue Jackets, St. Joe is tied with Carey and New Riegel for second, and a game behind the undefeated-in-the-MAL Stockaders.
And with about three minutes left in Friday night’s clash, it appeared New Riegel would get the win and remain undefeated in the conference.
New Riegel (13-2, 6-1) trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half, and went to the locker rooms down 27-19.
“We’ve been there before,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Aichholz said. “We had no doubt we were going to claw back into this game.”
The Blue Jackets did, thanks to a gargantuan effort from Brandyn Reinhart, who finished with a game-high 25 points and 19 rebounds.
“He’s a great player; he’s tough down low,” Dudley said. “He uses his body well. I can’t give him and the whole New Riegel team enough credit.”
The Blue Jackets scored the first six points of the third quarter, getting a jumper from Andrew Hohman, two free throws from Jake Dryfuse, and a stick back from Reinhart to cut St. Joe’s lead to 27-25.
St. Joe was able to halt the run, and went into the fourth quarter clinging to a 34-32 lead.
Each team started the final eight minutes hot, connecting on their first four shots from the field. With about five minutes left, Reinhart stole a pass and converted a wide open layup to tie the game at 43.
The game remained tied until Hohman was fouled attempting a straight-away 3-pointer with 4:02 remaining. In what could only be termed as ridiculous crowd noise, Hohman converted three free throws to put New Riegel up 46-43.
Dudley and Reinhart traded baskets, and the Jackets led 48-45 with the clock coming up on three minutes.
Things got even better for New Riegel on the ensuing St. Joe possession, when the Blue Jackets executed a trap and forced a turnover.
It looked like the turning point.
As it turned out, it was.
New Riegel threw the ball away on the inbound pass, and St. Joe’s Zack Yeckley converted it into points with a jumper at the 2:25 mark. Then, after another New Riegel miscue, Dudley got the ball inside and delivered a layup to put the Streaks up 49-48. Dudley was fouled on the play, but missed the ensuing free throw. Still, St. Joe had the lead with 2:15 left.
Dudley said he felt the momentum swing after his layup.
“A little bit,” he said. “I knew that New Riegel was going to keep fighting … I knew there was a lot more game to play.”
The Blue Jackets then turned the ball over for the third-consecutive possession, and again, St. Joe made them pay. This time it was Hunter Harrison scoring a layup and getting fouled. Harrison added a free throw and the the Streaks led 52-48 with 1:47 left. Harrison finished with 12 points.
The three turnovers were the only ones the Blue Jackets committed the entire fourth quarter.
“We didn’t do the little things,” Aichholz said. “In that situation, we weren’t meeting the ball; we were making soft passes. Those three turnovers were a huge turning point in that game. And anytime you go into the Thunderdome and you have turnovers like that, it’s going to lead to momentum on their side.”
But New Riegel didn’t fold. It took advantage of some shaky St. Joe foul shooting – the Streaks missed a pair of front ends to 1-and-1s with about a minute to go – and Hohman’s trey from the left corner cut the St. Joe lead to 54-52 with 36 seconds left. Hohman finished with nine points.
St. Joe (11-3, 6-1), which had made just 1 of 4 foul shots in the fourth, was going to have to secure the win at the line.
“I have confidence in our guys,” Will said. “It comes down to the pressure, the situation.”
The Streaks answered the pressure.
Williams hit a pair of free throws to put St. Joe up 56-52, then – after a Reinhart layup to make it a two-point game with 17 seconds left – Dudley was fouled and made two free throws. A Streaks stop all but ended the contest, and sent the noisy St. Joe crowd into celebration.
“Please put this in the paper,” Will said. “Our crowd tonight was the best St. Joe crowd I’ve ever seen in my life here.”
The Blue Jackets will look to bounce back tonight when they travel to Tiffin to take on Columbian.
“We’ve got to regain our focus,” Aichholz said. “All of our goals our still within our reach. We still control our own destiny as far as the league play is concerned. But we just talked about how we have to learn from this loss. We didn’t finish the game like we wanted to.”