The Bucks will join the girls team in hosting the league tournament this weekend

GARY ALLEN - Senior Justin Herberger drives into a pair of Crosshill Christian defenders in a 74-56 loss for the Bucks on Friday.

The steady rise of St. Paul boys basketball over the past few years is a significant achievement. As the regular season comes to a close, the Bucks (18-6, 14-2 Casco League) sit atop the league and prepare to host the league championship game on Saturday.

"We'll prep all week and go over our game plans for all the potential outcomes," SPHS coach Todd Swan said. "We'll have a Saturday morning shoot around and you never know what will happen in our league."

While they don't know their opponent yet, the moment is a point of pride for Swan and the St. Paul program, which had been unable to sustain success over the past decade. Under Swan's leadership, though, this experienced group has progressed from afterthought to championship contender.

The Bucks do it with a breakneck pace on offense and typically strong defense. Seniors Jaidyn Jackson and Justin Herberger, who jumped immediately from a deep postseason run in football to prominent positions on the basketball team, lead the team emotionally and in scoring.

While St. Paul emerged as the top team in the regular season, the Casco League has proven unpredictable in recent weeks, Swan said, meaning his team needs to be on its proverbial toes if it wants to avoid an upset. Crosshill Christian picked apart the Bucks 74-56 on Feb. 8, so they aren't invincible.

Any one of three teams is likely to emerge from the early rounds of the Casco League tournament and face St. Paul: C.S. Lewis Academy, Crosshill Christian and Perrydale. Each team, Swan said, has pros and cons in terms of the matchup.

"Perrydale is coached extremely well and they're in a position to be successful regardless of who they're playing," Swan said. "C.S. Lewis has two very good scorers in Micah Grobey and Jacob More, and they're tough to beat. Crosshill Christian has more size than anyone in the league and when they're hitting shots from the outside they're tough to beat."

St. Paul swept C.S. Lewis in league play and split its season series with Crosshill Christian and with Perrydale. Down the stretch, it won nine of its final 10 games to capture the top spot in the league.

The venue for the league playoffs was changed three times before landing on St. Paul as the destination. Now, Swan and the rest of the athletic department will scramble to plan for the arrival of the boys and girls teams from all the participating schools. The Bucks are happy that they get to play in front of their home crowd – an admitted advantage for both the girls and boys teams.

For the boys, the title game holds just as much significance as it does for the undefeated girls. Few 1A schools other than Joseph and Damascus Christian can boast better records between their two basketball programs.

"We're excited for a playoff-type game," Swan said. "The boys haven't had one in a long time at St. Paul, so it's going to be a new experience for them. We're excited to play on our home court."

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