For the first time in 30 years, St. Philip is heading to the state quarterfinals in boys’ basketball after the Tigers came away with their first regional title since 1984.
No. 5-ranked St. Philip defeated Covert, 61-44, in this Class D regional championship game at Portage Central on Wednesday.
“This is so surreal, I have no words for this,” St. Philip senior Tyler Hubbard-Neil said. “Our team has worked so hard, we deserve this, it’s been a great ride so far. At the beginning of the season we said we wanted to win conference, wanted to win district and regionals. I think setting goals is a key for us. We said we wanted to get this done and we did it.”
St. Philip advances to the Class D state quarterfinals, which will be played Tuesday at Battle Creek Central. The Tigers will play the winner of Morrice vs. Adrian Lenawee Christian, which will be played today.
The last time St. Philip was putting a season together like this was in 2010 when the Tigers had won 23 games and then lost to Covert in the regional finals. This time, St. Philip was able to take the next step.
“It’s mind-boggling to me that we are 24-1 and we are heading to the quarterfinals. It’s all about these kids. They aren’t scared, they have confidence and they know they can do it,” St. Philip coach Dino English said. “I’m just so happy for these guys. They are doing things that you can’t take away. They have a regional title – that is something that they will always be able to look back on and say they did that. It’s an exciting time.”
With the victory, St. Philip also breaks the record for wins in a season for a boys’ basketball team at the school as the Tigers improve to 24-1 on the year.
“This feels great. Now we have the most wins in school history. I can’t explain how good this feels. We knew they were a good team, but we came out to play tonight,” said St. Philip senior Alex Doyle. “It just feels amazing how far we’ve come.”
From the start, it seemed Covert wanted to get St. Philip into an up-and-down game. But the Tigers stayed in their offense and remained in a zone defense and forced Covert to play a slower tempo and the Bulldogs struggled.
Taking mostly outside shots, Covert was 2-for-8 from the field in the first quarter and 6-for-23 from the field for the half as St. Philip set the tone with a 20-17 lead at halftime.
“We were very impatient on offense. We’d come down and make one pass and take a shot, or we’d just come down and put up a shot. That’s not how I wanted them to play,” said Covert coach Larry Ash. “I told them they aren’t going to be able to just come back in the second half because St. Philip is a good team. I told them we had to run our offense and be smart and I don’t think they realized that until it was too late.”
St. Philip grabbed the momentum to start the second half and started to build its lead as Hunter Haley gave the Tigers their biggest advantage of the game after a 3-pointer made it 27-19. Two free throws by Doyle and a putback layup by Brent DeBree and St. Philip had stretched that lead to 31-19 with 4:00 remaining in the quarter.
With the 11-2 run to start the second half, St. Philip had the game going its way.
“I think we were composed on offense and then we made them take outside shots and after they did, we did really well on the boards. I thought if we won the rebound game, we’d win tonight,” English said.
A 3-pointer by Dreyson English gave St. Philip a 39-25 lead with :30 remaining in the third quarter and the Tigers had the cushion they would need to finish off the game.
For the third quarter, Covert went 3-for-12 from the field as the Tigers found their rhythm, gong 8-for-14, including four 3-pointers to take control.
“We weren’t doing the things we needed to do. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot all night. Not to take anything away from them, though, they shot us in the foot, too,” Ash said.
Covert, which had been playing in a zone defense most of the game, switched to a man-to-man near the end of the third quarter and then started the fourth quarter on a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 42-34.
But that’s as close as the Bulldogs would come as a putback by Doyle took the lead back to 47-35 with 5:20 remaining.
Doyle played big all game with a team-high 21 points and 10 rebounds.
“Alex has only played 16 games the last two years because of injuries. He’s been waiting for his moment. He was phenomenal,” English said.
Doyle also did a good job on defense in the paint against Covert freshman sensation Zequarius Jeffries, who had 25 points in the regional semifinal on Monday, holding him to just three points against the Tigers. Lequan Marshall had 14 points to lead Covert, which falls to 16-2 on the season.
Haley added 13 points for St. Philip with Hubbard-Neil adding 11 points and nine rebounds as Dreyson English chipped in eight points and DeBree had five points and a team-high 11 rebounds.
“I’m really proud of these guys. They have worked hard, it’s been a long year, and to see the smiles on their face, I am happy for them,” Dino English said. “I’m proud of the way we played tonight. I don’t think people gave us a chance, but we showed that we could play we showed that we are good.”