The St. George’s Dragons won their first State 2B boys basketball title Saturday night at the Arena and they may have a player who was on the court for only a couple seconds to thank for it.
The Dragons’ dominating 50-28 victory over defending champion Colfax was a result not only a suffocating defense and an efficient offense, but from a little emotion as well.
“It was Mark,” said junior guard Erik Muelheims, referring to senior Mark Kenney, a starter all season who was felled with a concussion last Saturday. He did not play at state, except for a token 2-second appearance with a couple minutes left.
“Mark was my motivation today,” added Muelheims, who diced up the Colfax defense for a game-high 26 points. “It’s tough to go down and not get to play in the Arena his senior year. It would have been his first and his last time.”
To win it for Kenney, the Dragons would have to beat Colfax for a fifth time. And find a way to control Brandon Gfeller, who came in averaging more than 20 points a game. They did both.
The latter was helped when Gfeller picked up two fouls in the first 2 minutes, 8 seconds. But Colfax coach Reece Jenkin felt that was a minor aspect in the decision.
“You have to give St. George’s credit,” said an obviously tired Jenkin, after being awake almost all night prepping for the game and awaiting the birth of his third child, Ryker, who arrived around noon. Both mother Breanne and child are doing fine.
The Bulldogs looked a bit tired themselves, as Muelheims attacked the basket with impunity all game.
“He just did a great job getting to the rim,” St. George’s coach Ryan Peplinski said. “He was able to finish under some real pressure. Them getting into early foul trouble helped, too.”
The foul trouble went both ways, as two Dragons picked up two fouls in the opening quarter of the closely officiated game and watched for a long stretch.
And when 6-foot-6 post Dexter Sienko picked up his second just before half, St. George’s had four players on the court for the final 1:29 before intermission who did not play significant minutes throughout the season.
“Those kids absolutely got after it,” Peplinski said, singling out senior Bruce Culbertson for his defensive play. “We had a lot of guys play over the course of the season, but (tonight) three guys played who hadn’t played in the tournament yet.”
Their contributions helped the Dragons build a double-digit lead, though the main reason behind it was the Bulldogs couldn’t keep Muelheims in front of them. Or St. George’s off the offensive glass.
The junior point guard – and the lone usual starter on the floor as time wound down before half – attacked the basket with impunity, scoring 17 of St. George’s first 21 points, including all but one in a 12-0 second-quarter run that built a 22-7 lead.
He finished with a full stat line, hitting 9 of 15 shots, grabbing five rebounds and dishing off for two assists.
Sienko added nine points and 15 rebounds for St. George’s and Will Tender another 13 points. The Dragons had a commanding 34-17 lead on the glass, with their 13 offensive boards leading to a 23-0 edge in second-chance points.
Gfeller couldn’t get untracked against a Dragons defense that never let him get any space.
“We knew we had to get into him,” Peplinski said. “He shoots the ball so high, if you can’t guard him on the ground, you’re not going to defend him in the air.”
He finished with five points, the third time this season he had scored that many or less versus St. George’s. Brady Ellis led the Bulldogs with 13.
The Dragons’ (29-1) lone loss this season came at the hands of Pullman, the 2A champion, by a single point. Colfax finishes the season 22-8.
Included in a decisive 25-11 St. George’s first-half lead were 14 second-chance points, as the Dragons pulled down 10 offensive rebounds.
As Kenney, who wore dark glasses to protect from the aftereffects of the injury, hosted the trophy, Peplinski reflected on the victory.
“It’s huge,” he said. “It breaks through. We’ve had a couple seconds and it’s been a long time between trophies for us.
“The competition here is as tough as it has ever been.”