AFFTON • Mike Fitzgerald refused to panic.
He watched his Affton boys basketball team give up one layup after another and miss one open jumper after another to open the Affton Holiday Tournament championship game. And yet, he remained completely confident the Cougars would right the ship.
“I told my kids I wasn’t worried about it. I know they’re going to figure out a way,” Fitzgerald said.
Affton rewarded its coach as it shook off that less than stellar start and blitzed Priory 73-57 Saturday at Affton to win the Affton Holiday Tournament championship.
The Cougars uncorked 10 3-pointers, moved the ball with precision and dug in defensively as they caught up and blew past Priory.
Affton (7-1) trailed Priory 22-11 after the first quarter. The Cougars went into halftime with a 33-27 edge that they would never get close to giving up.
“We don’t change our system a lot. We play fast, attack the basket and shoot the ball,” Fitzgerald said. “We keep it real simple and do the best we can.”
Reid Siebert was an offensive catalyst for the Cougars. He led the way with 21 points and was named to the all-tournament team. He buried a deep 3-pointer just inside the midcourt line at the buzzer of the third quarter that took all the suspense out of the game.
Marcus Burse scored 20 points for Affton. He too was selected to the all-tournament team and put together an outstanding tournament for the champions. Burse said this group had been waiting on a moment like this for awhile.
“Last year, we went to the finals in every tournament and lost, so this is a pretty big win,” he said.
The Cougars were mauled in the first quarter by the bigger, stronger Priory in the paint and at the rim. The Rebels connected on three old-fashioned 3-point plays to take a double-digit lead into the second quarter.
Once Affton found its mojo, Priory (7-4) was unable to consistently get stops on defense or find a way to get the ball in the basket.
“We didn’t use the momentum from the first quarter to carry us the rest of the way. They’re a good ball club, they’re hard to guard. They got guys that can drive it; guys that can shoot it,” Priory coach Bob McCormack said. “We didn’t adapt very well and their pressure kind of hurt us. We turned it over too many times and just didn’t get things going toward the basket. It kind of unraveled on us.”
Priory was led by Nate Vonderharr’s 18 points. Pat O’Brien had 14 and point guard Cole Esparrago had 10. Vonderhaar and Esparago would be named to the all-tournament team as well.
Affton’s defense was able to turn Priory over and get out in transition. The smaller, quicker Cougars moved the ball and finished in the paint. But all that began by finding a defensive stop.
“Our post defense starts with ball pressure. We knew if they were going to get it inside they would beat us,” Fitzgerald said. “We just fronted the post and relied on our help-side defense. We have some athletic kids, but we’re not very big.”
The Cougars weren’t shy about shooting. They all have the green light, but that doesn’t mean they’re out there gunning. Far from it.
“We shoot a lot in practice. We shoot a lot on days off. Whenever we can, we’re shooting in the gym. And it pays off. They all have confidence in their shots,” Fitzgerald said. “They know we’re not trying to take good shots, we’re trying to take great shots. They share the ball well, make the extra pass and they trust each other, which is huge.”
Burse said the Cougars biggest strength is their team unity.
“I love it. We have great chemistry. No one is selfish on the team,” he said.
LIFT FOR LIFE 65, DUBOURG 53 • Top seeded Lift for Life withstood an incredible scoring outburst from Joe Carr to take third place. The Hawks (6-4) led 42-30 at the half and never looked back. The balanced scoring attack of Timothy Townsend (18 points), Duane Clark (17 points) and Devon Herron (14 points) was too much for DuBourg (3-6) to match.
Carr went bananas for the Cavaliers as he scored 38 points and 22 of their 30 in the first half. Ryan McCafferty had 14 for DuBourg.
Marcus Burse, Affton
Reid Siebert, Affton
Timothy Townsend, Lift for Life
Joe Carr, DuBourg
Cole Esparrago, Priory
Nate Vonderhaar, Priory
Weston Frankow, Kennedy
Jermaine Griffin, Cleveland
Joseph Gillman, Hancock
Andrew Kowalkowski, Crossroads