While the St. Helena girls basketball team was busy hosting the Lady Saints Invitational this past weekend, the boys team competed in the John McMillan Holiday Invitational tournament in Cloverdale.
Just like a week ago in the Sutter Home Invitational, the Saints took fourth in the tournament, winning their first round game before dropping their final two.
The win came on Thursday over Willows, 51-45. The Saints then dropped contests to Del Norte, 52-21, and Cloverdale, 70-57.
Senior forward Nick Jeworowski was named to the all-tournament team. He led the Saints in scoring with 33 points over the weekend.
The 1-2 stretch puts St. Helena’s record at 4-4 on the season. The Saints will now have two weeks off until their next game, which will be the start of a weekend tournament in Fort Bragg after Christmas (Dec. 27-29).
This past weekend gave the Saints and first-year head coach Jim Gamble more of a chance to toy with rotations and work out some early-season kinks. Each game played out differently and helped give the Saints some perspective about how they stack up against other teams.
The Willows game in particular showed Gamble a lot about his young team. The Saints trailed throughout then staged a late comeback to escape with a win.
“It was nice to see. We’ve played eight games and most have been blowouts, so it was nice to have a close game,” Gamble said at the Saints weight lifting session on Monday. “We actually ran our four-corners offense at the end of the game just to try to run some time off the clock. … It’s just so important to play in those close games because when league comes it’s all about having poise and confidence down the stretch. It’s so important to play in those games and we haven’t had very many.”
Collin Darrall paced the Saints in scoring with 15 points. Fawad Muhammad added 13 and Jeworowski contributed 11, as St. Helena outscored Willows 29-19 in the second half.
“I was really proud of the kids for battling, not getting down and staying focused,” Gamble said. “Then we finally took the lead for the first time late in the fourth quarter, and we were able to make our free throws down the stretch and pull it out.”
In the Saints’ second game of the weekend, they found themselves in a tight contest against Del Norte, which plays in Div. 4. They trailed 20-14 going into halftime, but managed only seven points in the second half.
“They’re just big, strong, very athletic, and very well-coached. They’re also a stellar defensive team,” Gamble said. “In the first half, the kids played their tails off and we were only down six points at halftime. I was just really proud of their effort. Then in the second half, the game got away from us in the third quarter. Our shots weren’t going and the turnover bug crept in again.”
Jawad Muhammad led the Saints with seven points while Caleb Jeske added six.
The Saints ended the weekend with a better showing against tournament host Cloverdale in the third place game on Saturday. They once again found themselves in an early hole but got the deficit to within five in the second quarter before Cloverdale reestablished a ten-point lead at the half.
The two teams played almost even basketball the rest of the way but Cloverdale’s center Josh Lemley could not be contained. The 6-foot-5 sophomore scored a game-high 23 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked five shots to pace the Eagles.
“The kids were playing good hard-nosed defense … but their big man (Josh Lemley) just has a big presence inside and had a huge impact in the game,” Gamble said. “We did a good job on him but he still scored 23 points in the game and they had some kids who were hot from outside, so that combination was tough on us.”
Jeworowski scored 15 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter but the Saints simply could not climb out of the hole.
“At the end of the day, I need to do a better job as a coach of putting our kids in better situations to be successful,” Gamble said. “We have two and a half weeks off, so we’re going to make some adjustments, try to find offenses and transition schemes that will be better suited for our personnel.”
As of Tuesday, the Saints have been together as a complete team for about two weeks. They stand at 4-4 and see this two-week hiatus from games as a chance to reevaluate and make adjustments.
“I think we’re a little below our expectations,” Jeworowski said at practice on Monday. “There were some games where we could have fought back and won but we just didn’t. … We’re still starting our season up, still in preseason. So hopefully we’ll get into the flow of things and I think we’ll do a lot better.”
Added senior Christian Iano: “We knew we weren’t going to be good right away, but I think throughout the season we’ll get better as time goes on.”
Gamble said that the team will continue to practice during this week but will turn its focus to studies with final exams coming up.
“In the meantime, we’re going to continue practicing with short and focused practices during this week and next,” he said. “We’re really going to work on a lot of individual stuff. ... And also refining and getting better at our offenses, defenses, out of bounds plays, full court presses and transition game. It’s nice to have a bit of a break and really focus and get better and get ready for league.”
The Saints open league play at Lower Lake on Jan. 2, four days after the Fort Bragg tournament.