PRINCETON — It was not lost upon St. Bede coach Mike Kilmartin that Friday’s game at Princeton could be a trap game for his Bruins, even though the Tigers have defeated his St. Bede Bruins the past three years on the Tigers’ home floor, and the PHS seniors would be playing their final game at Prouty Gym.
The Bruins had just posted a big win Tuesday over 3A ranked Peoria Notre Dame, clinched a share of the NCIC championship and were looking ahead to the regional tournament. And while the Bruins may have fallen into the Tigers’ web, they avoided the trap, escaping with a 46-45 victory.
“You can tell the kids this is an important game, win the conference with however many (three) teams we’ve got, but they’re thinking about Bureau Valley,” Kilmartin said. “It’s just human nature. Because if you do lose, what does it mean? What does it really mean?”
PHS coach Jesse Brandt wrote on his chalkboard reminding his seniors this would be their last game on Prouty Gym and to make it memorable. They did their best to make it happen, especially in the fourth quarter.
After Sam Lucas hit a three-pointer from the top of the key to extend the Bruins lead to 40-29 to start the fourth quarter, the Tigers mounted their comeback. A Cole Evenson hoop, two free throws by Austin Mack and a putback by Austen Stewart made it 40-35. The Tigers forced a five-second call and another turnover on the Bruins before Stewart cashed in again to cap an 8-0 run to make it 40-37.
Another senior, Josh Kieffer, pitched in a three-point shot to pull PHS within 42-40 with 46.1 remaining. The Bruins came through from the free-throw line in the clutch, sinking 6 of 6 attempts in the final minute, four by senior guard Grant Bosnich of DePue to maintain the lead. They went 8 of 8 overall from the charity stripe.
Stewart nailed a three-point shot with 1.8 seconds remaining. The Bruins were able to inbound the ball deep and Brad Groleau simply flung the ball into the air to run out the final ticks.
“I’m definitely proud of the effort. The third quarter we just made a few too many mistakes,” Brandt said. “But give our guys credit, they battled all the way to the end, the last second. But we couldn’t pull it off.”
St. Bede’s Damin Smith led all scorers with 13 points while Lucas added nine and Groleau eight.
Princeton placed three scorers in double figures with Kieffer netting 12 and Evenson and Mack 10 each.
The Tigers used 7-0 and 10-2 runs in the second quarter to take a short-lived lead. Evenson hit a three, Mack two free throws and Kieffer scored on a drive to put the Tigers on top 21-19 with 1:52 to play in the half.
Junior guard J.J. Vaccaro answered a hoop by Groleau with a three to give the Tigers a 24-21 lead. Joe Pyszka scored on a putback and Damin Smith converted a three-point play from the foul line to put The Bruins back on top for good at the half 25-24.
• Notes: The Bruins will face host Bureau Valley in 2A regional play at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. PHS faced Hall on Monday night with the winner to face top-seeded Hall at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Visit www.bcrnews.com for results of that game ... St. Bede rallied to win the soph prelim 53-52. Justin Shaw-Lushina led St. Bede with 20 points. Garrett Duffin had 26 points for PHS.