It had the feeling of a heavyweight fight. Everytime the Saints would connect, the Rockets would answer right back with a run of their own. Rockford and St. James battled for 38 hard-fought minutes, but in the end, the Saints were able to prevail, holding off the Rockets, 59-55.
Rockford opened the scoring with a Brock Desens offensive rebound and putback. Seniors Lee Hillesheim, Parker Jones and Kobe Mohwinkel combined to put the Saints up 8-4 early on. Nick Manthana answered with a three.
Following a basket from Peyton Hanson, Desens gave the Rockets the lead again.
Parker Jones picked up his second foul shortly after, but head coach Spencer Monson rolled the dice and kept his senior captain on the floor.
As the Saints missed open shots, Manthana connected on a series of jumpers to put Rockford up by six with under 4:00 minutes left in the half.
Manthana scored 12 first-half points for the Rockets.
Late in the half, Desens grabbed another offensive rebound and connected on yet another putback to put Rockford up 27-20.
Kobe Mohwinkel would then drop in a three. Momentum shifted to the Saints in the last seconds of the first half, as Peyton Hanson hit a 15-foot runner at the buzzer after a Hillesheim three-pointer hit the side of the backboard and careened towards the Saints center.
The bucket trimmed the lead to 27-24 heading into the second half.
Mohwinkel led the Saints with 10 points in the second half.
Parker Jones would tie the game at 27 on the Saints’ first possession of the second half. St. James looked poised to take the lead, but a monster block by seven-footer Calvin Sisk led to a jumper by Ryan Boysen. Boysen would add a layup on the next possession to give Rockford a 31-27 lead.
Lee Hillesheim then took over for the Saints, scoring seven straight. Following five straight points from Rockford, Hilleshiem, Jones and Mohwinkel answered with a 10-0 run.
The burst from St. James would push the Saints in front 42-36, and they would never trail again.
With the game seemingly starting to slip away, Rockford head coach Michael Tauber switched his defense into a 1-3-1, which produced immediate results.
A Boysen layup cut the lead to four, and, following a timeout, Manthana drilled a three-pointer for his first points of the half.
“We really didn’t adjust much [to Manthana],” said Monson. “I thought we had a good game plan, we stuck with it. We knew we had to keep their big boys off the boards. And we did a good job of that.”
The combined efforts of Jones and Hanson were able to limit Calvin Sisk’s impact on the glass.
“It was just a great all-around performance [for Hanson],” said Monson. “He rebounded well, he boxed out well and he was passing so well too. He really didn’t do anything wrong tonight.”
After a Peyton Hanson layup, Boysen would bury a three-pointer to tie the game at 46.
In the final four minutes, the Saints lived at the free throw line. Derrick Halvorson showed cool nerves, making six free throws down the stretch, including the final two with 3.9 seconds left to help keep the Rockets at bay.
Parker Jones led the Saints in scoring with 17. Kobe Mohwinkel and Lee Hillesheim also scored in double figures for St. James. Peyton Hanson and Derrick Halvorson each chipped in eight.
Nick Mathana led all scorers with 20 points. Ryan Boysen dropped in 16 in support for the Rockets.
The win was the Saints’ first victory under 10 points in almost three weeks.
“The good thing is that we’ve also played some close games,” said Monson. “Redwood Valley and Fairmont were close, so we were prepared for this. That’s something that’s becoming a strength of ours. We’re learning how to close out games and we’re keeping a level head, even when a couple of things go wrong.”
With the victory, St. James remains undefeated, pushing their record to 9-0, surpassing their 8-0 start from the 2013-2014 campaign.
“9-0 sounds pretty good,” said Monson. “This is a great way to end 2018. Coming into this year I wasn’t sure what we were going to be starting out. The boys have done nothing but come in and work and listen to coaching.”
Following a short break for the new year, the Saints travel to Waseca to face the Bluejays.