February 22nd, 2018

Tigers capture 26th District title

Jeff Woods 

Staff Writer 


Tigers capture 26th District title
St. X's Pierce Kiesler hoists the district title trophy up in the air / photo from @StXPics

When St. Xavier and Male meet for the 26th District title, you can all but guarantee a close game. Since both teams moved to the district in 2012, not only has every championship game featured the Tigers and Bulldogs, but every game has been decided by four points or less.

This year was no exception.

The Tigers defeated Male 53-51 in a seesaw battle Thursday night. Aside from a brief nine-point margin in the second half, neither team could pull away from the other. And like many of their previous battles, the outcome was still uncertain until the final buzzer.

“We knew it was going to be an absolute battle to the absolute end,” said Tigers head coach Kevin Klein. “You have to give them a lot of credit. They weathered the storm when we got up about nine and made some big plays. And then we dodged some bullets missing some free throws and giving up some open looks. But at the end of the game, we limited them to one shot and giving them a chance for putbacks and layups, which helped us secure it down there in the last 20 seconds.”

St. Xavier (18-10) had several chances to put the game away in the final minute, but struggled at the free throw line, missing three front ends of a one-and-one. The last miss with 11 seconds left gave Male one final chance to tie or win with a three. Male sophomore Howard Flemming was called for traveling with two-tenths of a second to go, sealing the victory for the Tigers.

“We went from zone to man and I think they were kind of scattered with what defense we were going to be in, how much time was on the clock, and how they were going to attack,” said Klein. “Luckily, we had a couple of guys clogging it up and really didn’t give them a look at a three, which could’ve lost the game. Credit to our guys playing until that absolute buzzer.”

Senior Pierce Keisler got the Tigers rolling early. He scored St. Xavier’s first seven points and had eleven at the end of the first quarter. He finished with a game-high 22 points.

“Pierce is such a dynamic player. He has seen it all,” said Klein. “He’s keyed on every game and I’m just really proud of him for coming out with that fire and intensity. He had his offense going and took care of things defensively and played like a senior needs to play to give your team a chance to win a championship.”

“Senior year, to win the district is great,” said Keisler. “Last year I was a starter and played a lot and we lost it. We should have won, but we blew a big lead. It definitely feels good to get revenge and win the district this year.

“It always helps to come out on fire. It’s always a good sign. I think it gave our team a little boost and we kept going and they just fed off of it.”

Male (17-12) was led in scoring by Tyren Moore and Jake Evans, who both finished with 16 points. Head coach Willie Feldhaus believes the Tigers’ rebounding advantage (St. Xavier 30, Male 24) played a big role in coming up short.

“After we played them at our place, they outrebounded us by eleven in that game,” said Feldhaus. “And that’s one of the things we really emphasized coming into this game, how we had to close that stat line. We didn’t have to win the rebounding war, but we had to close the stat line and we really didn’t for the first three quarters.

When we were trying to come back at the very end, we got off a couple of pretty good-looking threes from our best shooters. It was just one of those night where they didn’t fall.”

St. Xavier now turns its attention to next week’s 7th Region Tournament. The Tigers, winners of ten of their last twelve, will host a first round matchup against a district runner-up.

“We are just really sharp right now because we have guys playing to their strengths, playing for one another, and playing very hard defensively,” said Klein “When you do that, you’re going to have a chance to win in the tournament.”

 

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