Vashon (23-3) vs St. Mary’s (25-3)
Date: March 7 - 6:00 pm
Venue: Parkway West High School
Without a doubt this is the most built up game in the first round in the state for any class and the St. Louis area has been starving for this game and they got it.
For the average fan, they think of Vashon and believe there’s no reason why they shouldn’t walk through the tournament and claim the state championship plaque because of their talent. Levi Stockard, Mario McKinney and Daniel “Peanut” Farris are a couple of names that come to mind when you think of the Wolverines fire power. They can win on height alone with Stockard, Joe Reece and Tromon Weston who are all over 6’8”. They can overwhelm opponents in a variety of other ways too with a bench that would make a for a decent starting five of their own. Don’t forget their coach is Tony Irons and he’s proven to be one of the best ball coaches in the St. Louis area. Ever since their loss to Webster Groves on Feb 16, Vashon has won four straight and breezed through their district by beating Clayton 65-34.
St. Mary’s comes into this game on a roll. They haven’t felt the taste of defeat since Jan 21 to Alton (62-55). Since then they’ve won ten straight, including Quincy Notre Dame and Borgia who are still playing. Like Vashon, they walked through their district with high-scoring wins over Affton (81-54) and Confluence (89-72) in the championship game. The Dragons have relied on underclassmen all season long and boast some good ones. Yuri Collins and Tony Burks have been one of the best guard duos in the area, while Yahuza Rasas isn’t a highly rated center because of his size, but he’s been finding ways to score all year long as well as being an active rebounder. This is the third year for veteran coach Kelvin Lee at Southside Catholic, and this has been one of his best campaigns he’s ever coached for sure.
One thing for sure is that this will be a high-quality game because these two teams could be playing for state titles if one of them was on the other side of the state bracket. That means a great team will be staying home after Tuesday night. Vashon has the height advantage with Stockard in the middle, but the matchup to watch is Collins vs. Harris at point guard. We’ll have a great sophomore showcase with Collins and McKinney on hand as they are two of the better sophomores in the state at any level. Both sides have a lot of underclassmen talent that are waiting in the wings, but St. Mary’s has a couple more that are already making an impact because of their light senior class. More than likely this will be back-and-forth game that will feel like a Class 5 game.
Parkway Central (20-8) vs. Borgia (18-10)
Date: March 7 - 6:00 pm
Venue: Kirkwood High School
Two hall of fame coaches will be in the building on Tuesday night. Dave Neier and Rick Kirby have combined for over 1,000 victories in their coaching career, but none of them don’t care about the numbers as much as you would think. Right now they’re figuring out how to win and have done well since December.
The Colts were 5-4 going into the second half of the season and are 15-4 since, including a 9-1 record since the Ameritime Classic through Jan 23-27. The Colts defeated Priory 52-46 and produced an excellent second half against MICDS that led to a 55-43 victory to advance. The man that makes the Colts go is DeAndre Campbell who not only leads the team in points and assists but is also capable of the improbable. Central is a small group in terms of size, but Arthur Green makes up for it and will be the best athlete on the court at 6’3”. The Colts are guard oriented and specialize in defense to set up their offense.
Borgia started the season off poorly at 2-6, but like Central, they’ve hit their stride in the second half of the season. They’ve gone 16-4 and aren’t supposed to be here, but they continue to disappoint as they upset Parkway West 61-44 in the semifinals and took down Sullivan in the finals 68-45. The Knights always seem to play at their maximum when it matters most. Their star man is 6’8” forward Alex Movila, who will cause plenty of problems for the Colts if he keeps up his current form. Hunter Meher and Gus Kleekamp are the other important players for the Knights.
The advantage is with Borgia because they’re so used to playing in sectional games and match up well with the height advantage, while Parkway Central hasn’t been to the playoffs in years. However, the Colts tend to manage well with taller teams and do have 6’6” freshman Davion Harris on the bench, who will be used quite a bit. If Campbell gets going early on then, the Colts will be in the game the whole way, but he doesn’t then it’ll be hard to find another way to win. Will Elbert collected 16 boards in the district finals against Sullivan, and that’s the avenue Borgia could have a field day with because the Colts have limited height. Campbell doesn’t have to do it all by himself, but if he can get Borgia’s undivided attention, then he’ll be able to find Green down low or sharpshooter Jake Silvestri open for three’s. It won’t be surprising if the final combined point total is under 100 as both teams will rely on defense to create offense.
Jennings (23-4) vs. Liberty (21-6)
Date: March 7 - 6:00 pm
Venue: Francis Howell Central High School
It’s been a dream season for the Eagles out in Wentzville. Liberty High School has existed for three years, and the basketball program has taken off with a 20+ win season. Junior Kaleb Overall has produced one of the best seasons in the area and is due for some critical acclaim as some of the other significant juniors in St. Louis. The Eagles don’t go very deep through their bench, but have a productive starting five and aren’t a one-trick pony with Overall. Jaylen Sims, Hayden Henningsen, and Alex Hines all have had good seasons and dangerous from three-point territory. They don’t have a big man, but Brian Jones at 6’4” has done well down low throughout the season. Liberty defeated Hannibal 65-38 and Fulton 62-50 in the district finals to get here.
A mainstay in the GSV rankings, but what Jennings cares about most is that this is the first year since 2009 they’ve hoisted a district championship plaque. However, this is the second straight season they’ve won over 20 games and their greatest opportunity in a long time to get to state. Travis Wallace, a Jennings alum, has turned this program around since he took over the coaching duties in 2012 and has gotten the most out of his players every year. Jennings took out St. Charles West 63-38 and St. Charles 66-52 in the district championship and for the season they’ve been consistent the whole year. Point guard Kyle Younge and forward Rajea’ Johnson are the two players that have terrorized their opponents and look to do the same against Liberty. Latrell Jones and Terran Jackson are athletic, tricky guards, but the Warriors do most of their damage inside and that’s where 6’5” forward Jordan Brown comes into play.
Comparing these two teams the one thing that sticks out is the strength of schedule and that favors Jennings, especially early on in the season. However, at the beginning of the season doesn’t mean a whole lot in March, but 23 wins are still impressive. Another advantage for Jennings is their athleticism and their ability to dictate the tempo of games. Then of course if they can limit Overall or if he’s having an off night then the Warriors will be in a good position. Liberty will want to get the ball into Overall’s hands and go to work, but if he is struggling, then the next best option is to kick it out for some open looks outside. The Eagles will want to tighten up their defense inside as the Warriors score a vast majority of their points in the paint. If Jennings can play close to their potential, then they should win by double-figures.