It was impressive, given the circumstances, as St. Henry blisters New Knoxville Friday for a sectional win in Division IV.
Coldwater – St. Henry coach Eric Rosenbeck wasn’t talking about the “bug” that had plagued his team for the 24 hours leading up to Friday’s sectional tourney game with New Knoxville.
Some called it the “flu”. Others hinted that it might be something they ate. Who knows?
Whatever it was, Rosenbeck wasn’t willing to acknowledge anything that would detract from a brilliant shooting performance by the Redskins (now 17-6) in their 66-50 win over the Rangers.
Ironically, he was wringing his hands prior to the game, recalling the earlier meeting between the two teams when it was 28-27 after three quarters, and a grind to win, eventually. That was in December, and close calls loom large in one’s noggin come tournament time.
But by the fourth quarter Friday Knoxville coach Josh Lisi was probably wishing for some flu-like symptoms of his own as St Henry’s three “shooting stars”, Mitch Stammen, Jesse Niekamp, and Evan Lefeld combined to shoot 20 for 32 from the floor (62.5%), score 23, 20, and 15 points respectively, and literally quash any and every run that Lisi’s offense tried to muster.
It was close at the start, and furious. The two teams guaranteed something more than a 28-27 dirge with 42 points in the first quarter alone, St. Henry holding a 23-18 lead by the end of eight minutes.
But as it turned out, Evan Lefeld was the early determinate to how things would shake out. While New Knoxville’s Logan Leffel was draining one three-pointer after another, Lefeld was matching him shot for shot. Impressively, Leffel was 3 of 4 for the first half.
Lefeld was even better…4 for 4!
St. Hank blew away in the second quarter as Mitch Stammen and center Jesse Niekamp got off and running. Stammen would finished the half with 13 points; Niekamp with 12.
Efficiency? Try 12 for 22 as a team, and 54% for the half while New Knoxville struggled to complement the effort of Leffel, shooting just 7 of 19, and 36%.
Up 15 points (38-23) at the half, St. Henry might have felt the effects of whatever it was that ailed them in the second half, as New Knoxville played them pretty much even. Still, they could never cut into that comfortable 12 to 15 point margin. Stammen, Niekamp, Lefeld and company would only outscore Knoxville by a single point in the second half, 28-27, but the damage was done.
For the game St. Henry shot 51% (22-43), while New Knoxville finished with 15 of 36 for 41%.
Afterwards, Rosenbeck was modest, but thrilled with the balance, the efficiency, and the resilience of his team.
“We’ve been playing good basketball lately,” he stated. “Evan Lefeld has been playing great basketball lately. Really, it’s more about him on the defensive end and rebounding. When he’s putting out max effort on those two things his shooting pretty much takes care of itself. He had an excellent game tonight, but I thought a lot of other guys did, as well.”
It is a team that’s scored some points of late, averaging about 60 points since the beginning of the year. But when most think of St. Henry, they think in terms of rugged, physical defense. And Rosenbeck makes no bones about it…he’d prefer to keep opposing teams under 50 points. That 28-27 score back in December really didn’t bother him at all, because frankly, he was the one with 28 and one point is all you need to win.
But when you complement an effort that holds teams to 41% for the game, as St. Henry did Friday, having three players shoot like Stammen, Niekamp, and Lefeld can make one very optimistic concerning your chances to make a Division IV run towards Columbus come a month from now.
“I like the way we’ve been playing,” said Rosenbeck. “I’d put us there with a half dozen teams (he named). With our seniors I like to think we have a chance.”
Lefeld may have shown Friday that he’s the proverbial player to be recognized later, more known for defense and rebounding. But his 100% percentage from behind the arc was hardly surprising to at least one teammate.
“It’s no surprise at all,” said Mitch Stammen, who was brilliant at the foul line, hitting 12 of 15 for the game. “He’s probably the best shooter in the MAC, by far. In practice he goes in streaks where he makes eight, nine, ten in a row. When he brings that to the game he’s unstoppable because he can shoot it any place he wants to. He can hit from 25 – 27 feet and it doesn’t matter how close you get to him. If he’s hot you’re not going to stop him.”
And is that kind of efficiency in reserve, and three players in double figures, a surprising surge at the right time for those who might overlook them offensively, preparing for the ‘Skins’ grinding defensive effort in upcoming tournament games?
“I don’t think it’s that surprising,” added Stammen. “We’re capable of doing that on any given night – we’ve had three or four games this year where we’ve had three or four guys score in double figures. It’s no surprise to us because I think anyone we put on the floor has the ability to score while getting it done on defense, as well.”
Stammen, who plays like the Tasmanian Devil at both ends of the court, maximum effort 100% of the time, was noticeably fatigued in the fourth quarter, testament to something, indeed, shared as a team, call it what you will. At the 6:00 mark of the quarter he was flat of his back on the sideline while a trainer was stretching him out for cramps, hydrating as best he could with fluids. Two minutes later he was back in the game.
Rosenbeck was hardly surprised, or conciliatory to bugs, or bad beans…whatever.
“It’s one of the hardest working groups in practice I’ve ever had, so I know they’re not going to let anything like that stand in the way of them putting forth their best effort.
“We were fine,” he hedged, addressing another question of how much his team had left in the tank as a remnant of what ailed them. “I don’t want to take anything away from the effort of the kids and them doing so many little things the right way…whether it was chasing Logan Leffel (who finished with 21) around the court, or Jesse Niekamp and the way he played around the rim. I’m extremely proud of every guy who touched the floor tonight.”
Whatever it was, it was far from the Zika virus, and face it, teenage boys rebound quickly with pepperoni and slammin’ a few ‘Dews. Of more importance is the question of whether St. Henry’s three-pronged attack on Friday is peaking at the right time to indeed propel them on a path through the district and regional rounds of the tournament.
“Offensively it seems like we’re doing some things a little better than just our standard motion,” he agreed. “That we don’t have to call so many sets. Defensively, 5o points isn’t a bad number tonight, but we’d like for it to be a little under that so we’ll get back to it and prepare for a good Ada or Minster team.”
That, in fact, will be Minster, who beat Ada in the second game of Friday’s sectional twin-bill at Coldwater, 61-43.
But when it’s good in March basketball, it seems like it’s really good…the kind of thing that’s infectious, catching, and transferable from one player to the next – one game to the next.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling,” said Evan Lefeld as he left the locker room Friday. “The ball just felt great coming out of my hand tonight. I knew after every shot I took that it was going in. It was just one of those nights. Coming down in transition, shoot a three. Guys driving in and kick it out, shoot a three. I guess it was the best shooting night I’ve had all season.”
Uh, yeah. You can’t do better than 100%. And while you’re at it, shake hands with as many teammates as you can.
It would be really nice…if that was catching!