However, this group of Lions will bring a golden trophy of their own with them.
Behind tournament MVP Riley Schaefer’s 23 points, St. Paul polished off San Antonio Shepard Hills 44-24 Sunday afternoon at Redeemer Lutheran Gymnasium to capture the Lutheran Middle School state championship.
Opening with a 33-point victory over two-time defending champion Carrollton Prince of Peace, the 14-2 Lions breezed through the tournament with hardly a scratch, taking four games by an average score of over 22 points.
“This group of guys have a strong work ethic,” said St. Paul Coach Kirk Becker. “The kids really stepped up and took everything on their shoulders and they were not going to be denied.
In the championship finale in front of a standing-room-only crowd which included a large contingent of current Thorndale Bulldog basketball players, St. Paul kept up its tournament trend of jumping out to a large lead and playing solid team ball down the stretch.
Against Shepard Hills, the Lions leapt out 10-2 in the first quarter which ballooned to 23-4 at intermission.
St. Paul held Shepard Hills without a field goal during the entire second quarter on 0-of-10 shooting.
In the meantime, the Lions ripped off 13 straight points, with Schaefer, William Islet, Devin Fisher and Bradley Betak all chipping in.
After Betak opened the second half with bucket and Schaefer followed with a three-point play and another basket, St. Paul was in the driver’s seat, but a rash of turnovers (seven) allowed Shepard Hills to rip off 10 straight points and close to within 30-14 with 2 minutes, 17 seconds left in the third quarter.
However, 6-foot-4 Lion postman Josh Jones took a pass from Schaefer for a layup, Schaefer went coast-to-coast for a drive and Jones hit Islet with a nice pass on a back door cut for a basket to stop the bleeding and St. Paul was in command again and led 36-14 heading into the final six minutes.
After Schaefer’s two driving layups to open the final period to push the score to 40-21, the Lions survived on free throws the remainder of the game for scoring, sinking four-of-six in the final 2:41.
St. Paul had over twice the turnovers as Shepard Hills (15 to 7), but made up for it on the defensive end, forcing its opponents to miss 34 of the 42 shots it attempted (19 percent).
Shepard Hills was two-of-13 from behind the three-point arc, while St. Paul attempted just one long range shot.
“I think the key was we had seen them play a couple of times and we changed up our defense,” Becker said. “We went out and executed it perfectly and this totally took them out of their offense.”
The gifted Schaefer spread his scoring evenly between the halves (11 in the first, 12 in the second) and was complemented by the hard-nosed Betak’s 10 points and Islet’s seven.
“I think even opposing teams looked at our team from last year and said that Riley is going to be the key player,” Becker said. “He is very quick on defense and he was our ball handler. He had several steals that turned into easy layups and would help extend our lead.
“However, what Riley and the rest of the team realized is that it is going to take all five on the court to win.
“As a team we concentrated on not who had the most points, because I believe most games were different on who the high point was, but on what can I do to help my team win and that was the big key.”
St. Paul had finished on top of this tournament once before, in 1995.
“To be honest like I told the boys,” Becker said, “if someone would have told me that we would win our regular season tournament and then a week later go on to win the state tournament I would have appreciated the comments but I would say we will see what happens.
“We lost a couple of players from last season and had two starters back. The rest of the team is either young or they have not played much basketball before this year.”
Thorndale St. Paul 44,
San Antonio Shepard Hills 24
ST. PAUL (14-2)—Riley Schaefer
23, Bradley Betak 10, William
Islet 7, Josh Jones 2, Devin Fisher
2, Kevin Cooke 0, Daniel Story
0. Totals FG 17-36 FT 10-16 3PT
SHEPARD HILLS—Roberts 9,
Esensee 5, Huff 4, Latham 2,
Garcia-Garza 2, Camp 2. FG 8-42
FT 6-8 3PT 2-13—24.
St. Paul 10 13 13 8—44
Shepard Hills 2 2 10 10—24
St. Paul 48, New Braunfels
St. Paul 58, Serbin St. Paul 47
St. Paul 49, Carrollton Prince of