Randy Reed isn’t used to losing.
The coach of back-to-back Missouri Class 5 champion McCluer North led the Stars to a 57-5 record over the previous two seasons, going 29-4 in 2010-11 and then 28-1 in 2011-12.
But when McCluer North hosts Hazelwood West on Friday, the Stars will be trying to snap a five-game losing streak and improve their records (10-9 overall and 1-4 Suburban North Conference).
“I think we’re playing pretty good,” Reed said. “We’re just not playing good enough to win in these big games. But we’re playing pretty good. There ain’t a whole lot to yell at my team about. We just have to tweak a few things and try to get better.”
Reed pointed to “small things” like mental mistakes and missed free throws that have made the difference in losing several close games. The Stars’ nine losses have come by a combined 42 points — an average of 4.7 per game — with the largest loss being an eight-point setback at Oakville on Dec. 11.
“We’re going to be tournament tough,” Reed said. “The bulls-eye is off of us. We’re not the hunted anymore, so we’re just going to play aggressive. It feels good to be the underdog sometimes.”
McCluer North could be a dangerous team down the stretch. The Stars are loaded with juniors. Leading scorer Rashad Lindsey (21.5 points per game) is a junior guard, while fellow junior Dorian Holland (11 ppg) is the lone returning starter from last year’s title team.
Reed could enter the district tournament as a No. 3 or No. 4 seed, but that’s nothing new, really. The Stars were seeded third when they won the state championship in 2011, which was their third title in five seasons.
The coach has also watched as the competition in Class 5 has failed to produce a clear-cut favorite to make a run at the state championship.
“March Madness is coming for everybody, not just us,” he said. “I’m seeing all kinds of crazy scores and wins and losses. Nobody has really stepped up like we did, 28-1, or McCluer last year. Vianney. You don’t really see that this year. Everybody is waiting for March. Or February Madness really in Missouri. But this March Madness thing, somebody is going to get hot and make a big run, and there are going to be some upsets.”
There are six Class 5 teams in this week’s STLhighschoolsports.com large-schools rankings — Ladue (16-4), CBC (16-5), Chaminade (14-7), De Smet (14-6), Hazelwood Central (15-5) and Webster Groves (15-5) — but they hold down the 5-10 spots with not much difference between them.
“It’s crazy,” Reed said. “Central handled CBC a month ago, and then CBC turns around and handles them. Chaminade is playing great and them and CBC are on the same side. De Smet is very, very good and they just lost to Rockhurst. It’s going to be tough.”
And Reed believes his team is continuing to get better, despite all the close losses.
“Their attitude is right,” he said. “They’re hungry. We need a win. They’re desperate. In a way it’s bad to have these losses, but in a way it’s good because you keep working on things. When you win, you work on less. Like last year we were winning every game by 30 down the stretch and there wasn’t a lot to work on. I was just planning for McCluer. This is really making a bonafide coach out of me because I have to work every day to make these kids better.”
SOUTHWESTERN CONFERENCE RULES
For much of the winter, the label as the area’s top team has been up for debate, with several candidates emerging but none really separating from the rest of the pack.
There is no such debate about which conference is the toughest this season. The Southwestern Conference has been head and shoulders above the rest, and this week that point is reinforced even more.
With East St. Louis climbing from sixth to fourth in the large-schools rankings following another win over top-ranked Belleville East, the Southwestern Conference now holds the top four spots in the rankings.
Belleville East (20-3), Edwardsville (19-2), Belleville West (14-6) and East St. Louis (15-6) have already provided many memorable nights this winter, with more to come in the next few weeks.
Belleville East has beaten Belleville West three times and Edwardsville twice but is 1-2 against East St. Louis. Edwardsville has defeated Belleville West twice and East St. Louis once, but both of its losses were against Belleville East. East St. Louis lost to Belleville East, West and Edwardsville as part of its 4-6 start but has beaten Belleville East twice as part of its 11-game win streak. The Flyers play at Belleville West on Friday and then host Edwardsville a week later.
Belleville East leads the conference at 9-1, with Edwardsville (7-2), East St. Louis (6-3) and Belleville West (6-4) trying to catch up.
WEBSTER GROVES’ LONG STREAK SNAPPED
Webster Groves’ state-record 83-game Suburban South Conference win streak came to an end on Thursday with a 52-48 loss to visiting Parkway Central.
“It bothered me actually a little more than I thought it would the next day,” Webster Groves coach Jay Blossom said. “It was getting to be a little bit of a distraction. But when it ended, waking up that next day, it was like when you wake up after losing a district championship or a state quarterfinal game or something along those lines. As opposed to a regular loss, which all losses stink. But it did hit a little harder. But, like I told my guys, you guys are lucky and I’m lucky that we get to come to practice on Friday and our season continues and we have a chance to make our own memories.”
The Statesmen had some Houdini-like escapes over the years to keep the streak going, like overcoming a 16-point third-quarter against Parkway Central at home last February, and had close games against Parkway West and Summit in previous weeks to keep it going.
But this young Webster Groves team is much different than the groups that have captured 11 straight league championships, with three sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup. Still, the Statesmen have been better this winter than many expected, despite some ups and downs while relying heavily on underclassmen.
“We’re 15-5,” Blossom said on Saturday following a 45-36 win against St. Louis University High. “I never thought we’d be 15-5, so I’m happy about that. I guess the good thing is we can get a whole lot better, but we need to start doing that now.”
HAZELWOOD CENTRAL LOSES AGAIN
Hazelwood Central went almost a full month without losing before a 71-53 loss to De Smet in the championship game of the Ameritime Classic on Jan. 25 snapped an 11-game win streak.
But now, following a 63-42 loss to CBC at the Public-Private American Heart Association Shootout at Maryville University, the Hawks have lost twice in their last three games.
“Some guys have found some things that have worked against us, and we haven’t been able to make shots and play inside-out,” Hazelwood Central coach Josh Martin said. “If it’s working against us, people are going to continue to do that. We’ve got to get better at attacking on offense. It doesn’t matter if you don’t make shots; you have to be able to get stops on the other end, and we didn’t do a good job of getting stops.”
NORMANDY EARNS A BIG WIN
The renaissance is on at Normandy. Fresh off a home win on Thursday against Suburban East Conference rival Ladue, the Vikings have now played five ranked opponents and taken down three of them.
Normandy (14-7) won at No. 3 small school Maplewood-Richmond Heights, beat No. 6 SS Duchesne at Kirkwood’s Denver Miller Classic and now pinned a loss on No. 5 LS Ladue. They were one bad quarter from handing No. 2 small school Cahokia a loss, too.
“We were beating Cahokia for three quarters, and we lost that one,” Normandy coach Terrence Hamilton said. “My guys, when they play, can play with anybody.”
Guards Gerard Fuller (12 points per game), Kevin McLemore (13) and Bryson Jenkins (10) have been doing the heavy lifting offensively. Jenkins leads the team by grabbing just under eight rebounds per game.
The Vikings will be tested Monday evening when they host No. 1 SS Madison Prep (19-1) at 6:30. The Bears have been on a tear and eked out a win over McCluer North, which pounded the Vikings by 25 points at the beginning of January.
Hamilton said he feels his team is ready for the challenges the Bears present.
“They got three real good guards, they shoot it real well,” he said. “But they’re not very big. We have an advantage. We should be able to get them on the inside.”
The two programs tussled last year when the core of Madison Prep’s players suited up for the now defunct Imagine College Prep. A fourth-place finisher in Class 4 last year, the Vikings were right there before letting the game slip away.
“We were ahead 3½ quarters, and we let it slip away,” Hamilton said. “I don’t plan on letting it slip away this time.”
Staff writer David Kvidahl contributed to this report.