As the Class D district semifinal game between St. Philip and Kalamazoo Lakeside Academy tipped off on Wednesday, the fifth-ranked Tigers had nine players sitting on their bench.
On the other side of the court, the Titans had only one player not checked into the game.
And from that opening tip until the final buzzer sounded, St. Philip asserted its dominance over short-handed Lakeside Academy with a 67-34 victory to move on to Friday’s district championship at Loy Norrix High School.
“They were undermanned, and that’s why we wanted to come out and play our game tonight and work on what we need to work on for Friday night,” said St. Philip head coach Dino English. “I thought the guys moved the ball really well tonight, we got some looks down low. It was a good team win, everybody got a lot of playing time, and this helps us get ready for Friday night.”
The Tigers (21-1) will face Climax-Scotts (13-9) in Friday’s district championship, beginning at 6 p.m.
Along with having a deeper bench, St. Philip physically outmatched a Titans team that didn’t have a player taller than 5-foot-11. The Tigers took advantage of their size early, as 6-foot-3 senior forward Brent DeBree scored six of his team’s first eight points in the paint.
After jumping to a 21-9 lead into the second quarter, it was senior guard Isaac Cloward’s turn to take over for the Tigers. He scored eight of his team-high 13 points in the second period to help St. Philip go into halftime with a 34-16 lead.
Senior forwards Tyler Hubbard-Neil and Alex Doyle helped keep St. Philip’s foot on the gas pedal in the third quarter, with Hubbard-Neil netting five of his nine points and Doyle picking up six of his 12 points.
Debree would finish with nine points and four rebounds and junior guard Hunter Haley had four assists and four rebounds. All five of St. Philip’s starters exited the game with the score 52-23 and 2:43 still left in the third quarter.
“I would have preferred a little better competition — nothing against them they’re just undermanned — but getting ready for Friday night, we would have liked to face a stronger team with a little more atmosphere,” English said. “Once we got up, it was just going through the motions. We wanted to keep coming out and running our sets.”
Seniors Jack Luoma (six points), Freddie Hallacy (three points, two rebounds), Brent Finnila (two steals) and Trenton Bartsch (two assists, two rebounds) also saw significant minutes in the final period.
“We’re 11 strong and a lot of seniors don’t get a lot of quality playing time,” English said. “And to come into the district and get some quality time will only help us for Friday night.”
With the victory, St. Philip is now just two wins shy of the program record. But first, English stressed his team can’t look past any opponent when a loss means the end of the season.
“Like I told the team, everybody we play I look at as being good,” English said. “One and done, you come into tournament time right now and you never know who is going to get hot, when they are going to get hot, what they’ve been playing, and injuries with people coming back off injuries. So we just have to come in here and play like every team is the No. 1 team in the state and just do what we do.”