It's rare that a team steamrolling through its league schedule has a chance to play a competitive game late in the regular season, but the No. 1 St. Paul girls basketball team got that chance on Monday as it hosted No. 7 Mohawk.
The contest was a non-league endowment game that served as a test for both squads of playoff intensity – one in which St. Paul proved itself as a top contender in a 45-36 win.
The Bucks (22-1, 12-0 Casco League) are all but guaranteed to win their final two games over Crosshill Christian and Falls City. Their eyes are fixed firmly on an expected league title tilt with No. 3 Perrydale next week – a team the Bucks beat twice already this season.
But a game against Mohawk was a necessary bit of preparation, coach Dave Matlock said, for that league title game and the state playoffs beyond it.
"It was a great game," he said. "The atmosphere was a lot like a state tournament game – the crowd was big and it was loud. The intensity of the players on the court matched a game like that so it was a great simulation of the level we have to play at.":
Senior Isabelle Wyss led the way for St. Paul with 12 points, supplemented by 10 from freshman Anabelle Davidson, nine from junior Mary Davidson and eight from senior Erin Counts. Foul trouble for Counts put St. Paul in a difficult spot – as she is one of their best players – but they responded to the adversity with a strong finish.
"Against a great team like that, this is a really positive thing for us," Matlock said. "For us to be able to survive those key moments without Erin in those final moments really says a lot about how our team pulls together and fights through pressure. We even increased the lead.
"They pressed the whole game and we only had 12 turnovers, which is amazing when you consider that we started two freshmen."
Matlock said this victory serves as a "shot in the arm" for St. Paul as it strides into the postseason as the top team in 1A. Its lone loss this year is to No. 2 Crane, a stinging 64-49 defeat at a neutral site that remains on the mind of every St. Paul player and coach.
"We feel that we are as good a team as Crane, but we didn't show that against them," Matlock said. "We are chomping at the bit to show them what we're made of – especially on defense. Every step we take now gives us that chance to get the rematch we all want, and we've got to take it one game at a time. All these games we've had against tough teams have proven we can beat anybody."
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