ALTAMONT – St. Elmo was able to take a 14-8 lead in the first quarter, but consistent play from Woodlawn on both sides of the ball in the final three periods doomed the Eagles during a 61-38 loss in the first round of the sectional tournament last Wednesday.
The loss marked the final game in the careers of regulars Garrett Buzzard and Kase Stolte – who both exited the game to standing ovations – and role player Dylan Bullard.
"I appreciate what they did," said coach Greg Feezel. "They were worried when we weren’t so good (midway through the season), and I think we turned it around good enough to where they can walk out of here proud knowing what we were trying to do with this team … worked.
"It blossomed at the end."
St. Elmo was 4-13 at its lowest point this season, but the Eagles finished by winning nine of 12 games to finish the year at 13-16 and made the school’s first sectional appearance since 1993.
The Eagles return four starters and most of its bench next season, but Feezel is cautious to say St. Elmo will match this season's postseason success.
"I'm not going to say we're going to be back here," he said. "You don't just get here."
Feezel did say that had a pair of missed layups in the first half been made, the game may have played out differently.
The second of those layups came on the final shot of the first half. Junior Jake Mansker tried to score the basket through a couple defenders, but it did not fall.
Woodlawn's all-state guard Dawson Verhines then opened the second half with a deep 3-pointer that gave the Cardinals a seven-point lead at 25-18.
"The biggest shot was when Verhines hit the 3 right off the bat," Feezel said. "I mean, that was a deep 3. We were there, (but) he just hit it.
"When we missed that layup there at the end (of the first half), that's a five-point swing. (Then) you're in trouble."
Indeed, St. Elmo was.
That 3-pointer started what would become a 10-1 run to start the second half.
After the teams traded baskets for the middle two minutes of the third, the Cardinals would close the third quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 47-26 lead into the final period.
In total, Woodlawn outscored the Eagles 25-8 in the quarter.
"Their arm length would hurt anybody," Feezel said of Woodlawn's defense. "But we've had trouble running our offense most of the year.
"Their defense was what it was supposed to be."
Josh Wiggs – a 6-foot-8 senior from Woodlawn – also presented a challenge for the undersized Eagles.
He was not much of a factor on offense and was battling foul trouble throughout the game, but he did grab six rebounds and blocked several St. Elmo shots.
"When we guarded him the way we wanted to guard him, he didn't get much done," Feezel said. "For the most part, for 6-2 kids, we handled a 6-8 kid pretty well."
St. Elmo sophomore Connor Beasley opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer, and a foul after the shot allowed the Eagles to maintain possession. A turnover, however, did not allow them to further chip into their deficit.
Beasley would make another 3-pointer, and Mansker scored four points, but Woodlawn matched the Eagles on every basket to secure the 23-point win.
On Friday, the Cardinals defeated Red Hill, 52-38, to advance to Tuesday's super-sectional, where they defeated Mounds Meridian, 50-41, to advance to the state tournament.
Wednesday, March 2
at Altamont Sectional
St. Elmo 38
Points – Mansker, 10; Blake Pruett, 10; Buzzard, 8; Beasley 6; Blaine Scholes, 3; Ben Sperry, 1.
Rebounds – Sperry, 5; Beasley, 4; Mansker, 2; Pruett, 2; Stolte, 1.
Season scoring leaders:
Connor Beasley – 11.63 ppg
Ben Sperry – 8.61 ppg
Jake Mansker – 8.48 ppg
Garrett Buzzard – 7.85 ppg
Blaine Scholes – 4.82 ppg
Blake Pruett – 4.79 ppg
Kase Stolte – 4.54 ppg
Patrick Schaal – 1.74 ppg