Bucks fail to clinch top seed in loss to Crosshill Christian
After the best regular season in years culminated in a Casco League championship trophy, the St. Paul boys basketball team was left licking its wounds after the Buckaroos were unable to earn the conference's top seed in the state tournament after a 69-55 loss to the Crosshill Christian Eagles on Saturday.
The Bucks (18-7, 14-3 Casco) were looking to couple their league title with a tournament title and earn a first-round bye in the state playoffs, but were instead overwhelmed by a Crosshill Christian team that won its ninth straight game.
"Tonight, whether it's being the first time in that position, the crowd, whatever it was, we were not executing and making shots in the first half," SPHS coach Todd Swan said. "Once we calmed down, I thought we played very well offensively and defensively. It's just at that point, it was a little too late."
The Eagles raced out to a 13-7 advantage and led 20-7 after the opening quarter, continuing an 18-0 run that put the Bucks behind 31-7 midway through the second period. Although the Bucks played with their typical aggressiveness, the shots simply weren't falling on the offensive end. And with junior post Alex Dela Cerda out for the season, St. Paul had little answer for Eagles' trio of 6-foot-4 posts —junior Evan Dallum and sophomores Tyler Hesse and Andrew Stoddard.
"That hurts us," Swan said. "(Dela Cerda) was a big part of what we did this summer and what we started to implement this offseason. But you move on. It's the next man up, but unfortunately the next man up isn't 6-foot-4."
St. Paul ultimately got its bearings after the Eagles scored a pair of baskets to open its second half lead to 44-16. Senior guard Justin Herberger connected on a three-pointer, followed by another triple from Rawley Koch. Senior guard Jaidyn Jackson was fouled on a three-point attempt on the ensuing possession, sinking all three freebies to make it 44-25. A pair of split free throws from Herberger concluded the team's 10-0 run.
The Bucks continued to chip away at the lead. Herberger knocked home another three with 1:20 remaining in the quarter, sparking a 7-0 run that left St. Paul down 54-41 heading into the fourth quarter.
But the Bucks were unable to complete the rally. Stoddard continued to pound the ball inside in the fourth and St. Paul could not answer. It was the second big loss to the Eagles in eight days for St. Paul, who fell 74-56 on Feb. 8. While both St. Paul and Crosshill Christian rank outside the top 10 of the OSAA standings, Swan feels confident that with the Eagles' size and resume of success, they are the team to beat in the state tournament.
"Crosshill is the best team we've seen through the summer and this year," Swan said. "We've played Sherman as well – the No. 1 ranked team – and Crosshill is hands down the best team we've seen. So we know we can compete with that, we just have to be consistent, which is something we haven't been in the last week."
With the loss, the Bucks earned an additional playoff test on the team's road to the state quarterfinal tournament in Baker. St. Paul played host to the Eddyville Charter Eagles (12-12, 5-5 Mountain West) on Tuesday night. It was the first home state playoff match in a while for the St. Paul boys.
"We're excited to host one more game in front of our fans and it's kind of nice to play a team that hasn't seen you play," Swan said. "We've been though league, teams know who you are, they've watched your film. It'll be nice to get a fresh look at new faces and hopefully earn one more chance to play next Friday."