As the St. Vincent boys basketball team comes ever closer to the Class 2, District 3 tournament, the path to a district title looks eerily similar to last year. Third seed St. Vincent will kickoff the tournament against sixth seed Puxico at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 23 at St. Vincent High School.
St. Vincent (17-4) is seeded behind Advance, and top seed Oran in the district. The third seed was something that coach Bruce Valleroy expected going into the seed meeting.
“You always like to be higher, but I understand that Oran has not lost to anyone in our district and Advance has a better record than us,” Valleroy said. “It doesn’t really matter because we have to play those guys to win a district title, but we would rather play them at home of course.”
Due to COVID-19 protocols, there is not one central location that will host all the games in a district tournament like in past years. Instead, the better seed will host the game, which is why Puxico will travel to Perryville in the battle of the Indians.
“It’s going to be great to host a district game at home,” Valleroy said. “This will probably be the first district game we host at our gym because when we’ve hosted in the past, the games have always been at the Park Center.”
St. Vincent defeated Puxico 77-33 last year in the first round, and Puxico will enter this year’s tournament with a record of 5-16. Despite the subpar record, Valleroy is not looking past the first round matchup.
“I know their record isn’t the best, but we have to come ready to play,” Valleroy said. “We’ve approached every game like it’s our last this season whether it be because of COVID or this snow we’ve been having. We have to focus on Puxico first.
Should the Indians get by Puxico in the first round, they will face Advance on Feb. 25. The Hornets will have a bye into the semifinal thanks to the second seed ranking and enter the tournament with the best record at 18-4. St. Vincent defeated Advance 67-66 in overtime in last year’s semifinal round. St. Vincent went on to fall to Oran in the tournament final.
Valleroy expects a tough matchup yet again with a quick Advance team if the two teams face each other. The Hornets have won 12 of their last 13 games.
“Advance is a good team that loves to press you and get up in your face and pressure the ball,” Valleroy said. “They have a good post player who we have to look out for.”
The Class 2, District 3 tournament will be one of the more competitive tournaments in the area. Five of the six teams have at least 14 victories on the season. (Valle Catholic and Meadow Heights have 14, Oran has 15, St. Vincent and Advance have 17 and 18 respectively). Valleroy wouldn’t be surprised if there were an upset or two in the early rounds, with every game being competitive.
“Our district is very tough and we knew that coming into the season that all our records would be about the same,” Valleroy said. “It’s going to come down to who is playing their best that week and who is most consistent.”
St. Vincent has allowed 42 points per game this season and scored 56 per game offensively. The Indians have won four games in a row and have allowed 41 points or less in each one. In their most recent victory, St. Vincent allowed 34 points to Herculaneum to clinch the conference title. Valleroy believes that his defense will keep his team in every game.
“We’ve been holding teams in the 30 and 40 point range,” Valleroy said. “If that continues that means we are going to be in the games and that’s all you can ask for. I would like us to score a little bit more, but I like our chances against anyone we play.”
Lady Indians claim two seed
The St. Vincent girls basketball team had a tough three game stretch in mid-December where they played Class 6 Poplar Bluff, Neelyville and Class 1 powerhouse South Iron. The Indians lost all those games, but it turned out to be a saving grace when it came to the district tournament.
The Indians will enter the Class 2, District 3 tournament as the second seed and probably has that tough competition to thank. The Indians will have a bye in the first round and will face the winner of Valle Catholic and Puxico on Feb. 24.
“I have to give the coaches down south a lot of credit,” St. Vincent coach Mel Kirn said. “When we had the seed meeting we went in with a record of 10-7 and they knew we played a lot of tough competition. The first four losses we had were tough and the girls weren’t ready for my system and it showed.”
The Indians are in search of their third straight trip to the district championship game. The Indians fell to Oran in their previous two appearances in the title games, including last season, when they lost 61-32.
First though, Kirn and his team must concern themselves with the their semifinal matchup. St. Vincent did not face Puxico this season, but defeated Valle Catholic 51-45 in overtime on Jan. 11. Reese Barber scored a game-tying layup with 4.4 seconds left in regulation. St. Vincent then outscored Valle Catholic 9-3 in the extra period.
The one point on contention that Kirn has leading up to the district tournament is the ability of his team to possess the ball.
In their most recent game, St. Vincent committed 27 turnovers in a 66-47 loss to Herculaneum and Kirn knows that to compete against the best teams in the district his Indians can’t be turning the ball over in abundance.
“We can not turning the ball over that much,” Kirn said. “That’s taking chances away from us to score and giving the other team extra possessions. We have to treat every possession as precious.”
Oran enters the tournament with the best record with a 13-3 mark. Their three losses are to Jackson, Park Hills Central and Delta, who are a combined 47-12. Kirn said they are probably once again the team to beat in the district.
“Oran is a good team and anyone who plays them is going to have their hands full,” he said.
Kirn believes his team has a good a chance as anyone to winning the tournament.
"As along as we can limit those turnovers, we got a shot,” he said.