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ST HELENA – The St. Helena boys basketball team opened its 2018-19 season with a sound 65-44 win over visiting St. Vincent-Petaluma on Tuesday night.

The Saints (1-0) outscored the Mustangs (0-1) in every quarter, building a 15-11 lead in the first quarter before expanding it to 36-21 by halftime. From there, the hosts held St. Vincent at bay and road to the double-digit victory to get the season off to a positive start.

“We only have eight players tonight and the kids just battled their hearts out,” said first-year head coach Jim Gamble. “They played hard, they played fast and they were just super aggressive the entire game. I was just so darn proud of their effort tonight.”

Both St. Helena and St. Vincent played shorthanded on Tuesday, missing players due to vacation or commitment to fall sports, like football. Gamble said he has a handful of players he’s waiting to add.

But even with a team not at full strength, Gamble wasn’t surprised by his team’s effort.

“We only have two seniors on the team so we’re really young, but they’re all so excited just to play a game,” he said. “It’s just contagious, but that’s who these kids are. These kids have tremendous passion and a tremendous love for this game and that’s just the way they play every day in practice.”

Junior Caleb Jeske chipped in 16 points with two three-pointers for the Saints while teammate Nick Jeworowski led all scorers with 19 points and added five blocks, four of which came in the first half.

“Nick had a real presence in the middle tonight,” Gamble said. “Nick has tremendous hops. He’s only 6-1, he has a long wingspan, and he really does a great job on the boards.”

Rebounding may be one of the Saints weak spots this season since they only have a few players who stand over 6-foot. But what they lack in size, they made up for with effort on Tuesday against the bigger-bodied Mustangs.

The Saints grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, according to Gamble, a number that he was thrilled with.

“It was a team effort tonight on rebounding. I was really proud of not only our defensive rebounding but also our offensive rebounding,” he said. “I think we had 11 offensive rebounds and those all result in extra possessions and a chance to score a lot more points.”

The Saints carried a 36-21 lead into the second half, a product of a dominant second quarter effort capped with a buzzer-beating layup from Jeske. The Saints outscored St. Vincent 21-10 in the second frame to build on their four-point first quarter advantage.

From the get-go in the second half, the Saints jumped all over the Mustangs. They pushed the score to 42-21 before a St. Vincent timeout at the 6:35 mark of the third quarter. Out of the timeout, sophomore Fawad Mohammed hit one-of-two free throws to push the Saints’ lead to 22, the largest of the game.

By then, St. Vincent had nothing working offensively. The Mustangs didn’t score their first point of the second half until midway through the third quarter. They played hard till the end but the Saints were simply too much to handle.

The teams played even until Jeworoski scored four points over the last minute to push the lead back to 21 as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

Minus some early foul trouble and a flurry of turnovers, both common in early season play, it was a complete, 32-minute game from the Saints and effort that Gamble couldn’t have been more pleased with.

“That’s just who these kids are,” Gamble said. “They have tremendous passion and tremendous love for the game and they only know how to play it one way and that’s all out. We were battling foul trouble in the first half because of that tenacity but I’ll take that tenacity every day.”

St. Helena won’t play again until the Sutter Home Invitational Tournament which runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 at St. Helena High School. The Saints are matched up with John Swett (1-0) in the first round.

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Sports Reporter