St. Paul girls remain flawless and earn Casco League title
For opposing coaches going up against the No. 1 St. Paul girls basketball team, it's an impossible question of who to game plan against — Erin Counts or Isabelle Wyss.
In the end, Casco League coaches figured neither option was preferable and lauded the success of the Buckaroo teammates by naming the two juniors co-players of the year following St. Paul's 38-17 victory over the Perrydale Pirates on Saturday.
"All coaches had one a little higher and another coach would have the other a little higher because of their experience with Bella or Erin," SPHS coach Dave Matlock said. "It's hard to choose. They play totally different games and they're both deserving."
The Bucks celebrated a perfect regular season on Saturday with their victory over the Pirates in the title game of the Casco League tournament, earning the conference's top seed heading into state playoffs this week.
Led by Counts and Wyss, St. Paul (26-0, 16-0) has been untouchable this season, winning all but two games by double digits. Saturday's victory was the ninth time this season the Bucks have held an opponent under 20 points and despite the sizeable victory Matlock left the game feeling he may see Perrydale again in the near future.
"They've got a very good chance to get to Baker," Matlock said, referring to the site of the 1A state quarterfinals. "They are that well coached and they are that athletic. If they can continue to refine their offense — they're great on defense, but they're coming on offense — they're going to beat a lot of teams. I think they're under-ranked."
After twice beating Perrydale in the regular season, including a 41-30 victory in January that ranks among the closest games St. Paul has played this season, Matlock wanted to make sure his team was ready for the Pirates' physicality.
Enter the St. Paul boys basketball team.
"We brought the boys in this week for three days and it really paid dividends, because they weren't as intimidated by the physicalness," Matlock said. "They're very physical."
After the Pirates opened the first quarter with a 6-4 lead, St. Paul went on a 6-0 run on a pair of three-pointers from Counts to take a 10-6 lead going into the second half.
The two teams struggled to find offense, trading sparse trips to the free throw line, and the Bucks maintained a 15-10 advantage going into the second half.
"Over the whole, we handled the physicality and the angles better than the last time we played them," Matlock said.
St. Paul unleashed its defensive potential in the second half, holding the Pirates without a field goal and just two trips to the free throw line. Although Perrydale was able to lock down Wyss, Counts and senior teammate Emma Connor were the beneficiaries and received more open looks from outside.
As a result, the Bucks slowly added to their lead, one possession at a time, and went into the fourth quarter up 24-11.
St. Paul continued to pad its lead, scoring the first six points of the final period to take a 30-11 lead before Perrydale finally answered back on a three-pointer of their own.
But there was no slowing down St. Paul. The Bucks kept attacking the basket, resulting in eight free throws down the stretch that helped seal the game away.
"Emma Connor, I thought, really played great," Matlock said. "Her defense, her rebounding and getting to the free throw line — five out of six — that was huge for us."
Counts finished the game with a team-high 15 points, while Connor added nine and Wyss had seven.
After the contest, Connor joined Counts and Wyss as first team all-conference selections for the Bucks.
The victory gives St. Paul a first round bye in the state playoffs; they will await an opponent to be determined in the second round on Saturday. The winner of that game will advance to the 1A state quarterfinal tournament in Baker City on Feb. 28.