Saints advance to Show-Me Showdown in miraculous fashion

Wednesday, March 6, 2019
With his fans (and Fathead representation) watching from just feet away, sophomore Justin Griffith knocks down one of the biggest shots in school history, sending Saint Paul Lutheran High School to the Show-Me Showdown State Tournament in Springfield for a shot at the Class 3 state championship.
Contributed image/April Todd

For a team that had hardly been challenged all season, the Saint Paul Lutheran High School boys basketball team sure knows how to pull off narrow victories. No heart attacks were reported by SPLHS fans, but many hearts skipped beats as the Saints season came down to the wire twice in the first two rounds of the Class 3 State Tournament.

Only four games prior to the state tournament finished with 10-point deficits for the Saints (one two-point loss, one five-point win, two nine-point wins), but back-to-back games with intense endings spurred the Saints as they knocked off the Monroe City High School Tigers and the St. Michael the Archangel High School Guardians in the Sectional and Quarterfinal round of the tournament.

Wednesday, Feb. 27 — Sectionals — Moberly Area Community College
Saint Paul 45
Monroe City 42

Despite maintaining a lead through a solid chunk of their state tourney opener, late-game heroics helped the Saints march through the Monroe City High School Tigers, 45-42.

The Saints were able to silence the Tigers early on, taking a 10-7 lead into the second quarter. The lead gained a bit of steam in the second quarter despite an unusually low point total as the Saints went to the break up 21-16.

Monroe City matched SPLHS’s energy in the third quarter, however, as both teams put up their most efficient offensive quarters of the evening. The Tigers cut a point out of the lead heading into the fourth quarter, moving the score to 35-31.

The game ultimately came down to the fourth quarter, where the Saints had a bit of trouble offensively. After a few stagnant offensive possessions and a Monroe City layup, the Tigers had a chance to take the lead with just seconds left on the clock, but an errant game-winning three-point attempt and subsequent loose ball foul just before time ran out helped the Saints complete the victory.

A triage of Saints cracked double digits. Senior Dobrivoj Andrejic put in 12 points and snagged 10 boards, while fellow senior Elijah Muehler scored 10 points. Vlado Vretenicic fell just a rebound short of a double-double, as the sophomore corralled nine boards and scored 10 points, including a free throw to help ice the game.

Micah Lemmons and Justin Griffith also did their part offensively, as the senior-sophomore guard combo scored seven and six points, respectively.

Saint Paul moved to 26-1 (7-0) with the victory. Additionally, they advanced to the quarterfinal round of eight teams.

Monroe City concluded their season at 24-4.

Saturday, March 2 — Quarterfinals — Lee’s Summit High School
St. Michael 58
Saint Paul 59

In their quarterfinal matchup with the St. Michael the Archangel High School Guardians, the Saints led for approximately two seconds of the entire game. Those two seconds, however, would be immediately followed by the final whistle, and the Saints would earn the 59-58 victory on one of the biggest shots in school history.

Despite falling behind 21-6 early in the first quarter, SPLHS closed the quarter out on an impressive 9-0 run, bringing the first quarter total to 21-15 in favor of St. Michael.

The lead would expand by two points heading into the halftime intermission, with the Saints trailing 36-28.

A tremendous third quarter for Saint Paul brought them within one point heading into the fourth, 45-44. Missed layups and a solid defensive presence by the Guardians, however, would prevent the lead from ever changing hands as the game went to the final period.

Despite a plethora of high-percentage shots falling by the wayside for the Saints through the third and fourth quarters, they were benefited by a handful of missed St. Michael free throws late in the game — including a few that could have potentially put the game to bed.

The Saints took the opportunities and capitalized on them, ultimately culminating in one of the most important plays in Saints’ history.

With just seconds left on the clock and down by two points, Saints head coach Monte Pitsch took their final timeout. Already widely known as one of the best coaches in the state with a knack for making catalytic in-game adjustments, Pitsch scripted a three-point play for the win, as later revealed to KMMO’s Greg Schmidt during the postgame interview.

Sophomore Vlado Vretenicic sent an inbound pass to senior Dobrivoj Andrejic, who had set a screen for senior — and assumed-shot taker — Elijah Muehler and faked the roll to come open in the backcourt. Muehler faded away before using a jab-step to create space and receive a handoff from Andrejic. The handoff forced a double-team on Muehler, who wrapped a bounce pass back to Andrejic.

Needing just two points to send it to overtime, Andrejic started to drive, forcing the Guardian’s 3-2 zone to over-rotate and leave sophomore Justin Griffith open in the corner. Andrejic took one dribble and sent a bounce pass to Griffith as his defender vacated to help guard Andrejic. He quickly picked Griffith back up, however, denying Griffith his wide-open shot as another defender came crashing in. Griffith, correctly identifying a slight defensive lapse, pump-faked and sidestepped to his left, chucking up a wild, off-balance circus shot with intense defensive pressure. The shot miraculously fell, giving SPLHS their first and only lead of the game as time ran out, securing their spot in the Show-Me Showdown.

Griffith’s shot was his fourth three-point attempt of the night, splashing down on two of the prior three attempts. He finished with nine points.

A trio of Saints tied for the lead in scoring, as Muehler and Vretenicic were joined by junior Dominic Alicea (six rebounds, 3-4 three-point) finished with 11 points.

Andrejic concluded with eight points and nine rebounds, while senior Micah Lemmons picked up seven points and six rebounds.

The enthralling victory sends SPLHS to the Show-Me Showdown, where they will vie for a Class 3 championship. Their record advanced to 27-1 (7-0) behind their 27th straight victory.

St. Michaels dropped to 17-13 on the season with the campaign-ending loss.

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