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Saints lose pair of close battles to Fairmont and Luverne

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

On Friday, St. James hit the road to Fairmont and hung tough with the Cardinals throughout, but the hosts managed a 74-68 win.

Tanner Rosch buried a game-high four threes, highlighting his 17-point night.

Zach Jorgensen scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half to help the Cards fend off the Saints. 

Hayden Jones scored 33 for St. James and had five rebounds. Jones lived at the free-throw line in the second half, connecting on 8/9 from the charity stripe in the half. Steven Balbuena scored ten—all in the second half. Michael Suarez finished with nine and a pair of triples. 

On Monday night, the Saints found themselves locked in a defensive struggle against Luverne in the home opener, as the guests escaped with a scrappy 41-37 win.

Even with Luverne's defensive intensity, the Saints held an early 5-0 lead thanks to buckets by Connor Jones and Suarez.

A 10-0 run by the Cards—sparked by a pair of threes and a backdoor lob to 6'4" sophomore Gannon Ahrendt— put them up 15-7 midway through the half before Hayden Jones got on the scoreboard with a triple.

A pair of short baseline jumpers by Tanner Olson cut the deficit to 15-14.

As Ahrendt responded with another thre and another backdoor lob, and the Cards ratcheted up their trap defense and forced the Saints into multiple turnovers. St. James' defense was up to the task, stifling the Cards and preventing another large run going into the break.

"They just covered the court really well," said head coach Spencer Monson. "They have a lot of good athletes and they were flying around trapping. They really gave us a struggle with their long arms on some of our shorter guys. I thought we handled it pretty well to start the game but it's something we're going to have to work on."

Early in the second half, the St. James offense showed signs of a turnaround, getting good looks and taking care of the ball. Hayden Jones connected on back-to-back buckets. Following a three from Bailey Cowell, Adrian Luna knocked down a three of his own to cut the lead to 25-23.

With 11:45 remaining in the half, Connor Jones buried a three to give the Saints their first lead since the opening minutes.

Another bucket by Ahrendt put Luverne back in the lead. Ahrendt struck again on a set play out of a timeout, connecting on his fourth three of the game.

"That's the part that makes him so difficult to cover, he can score both inside and outside," said Monson. "His three-point shot has gotten a lot better since last year so it's tough when you have an inside-out scorer like that."

Looking to put the final nail in the coffin, Luverne led by ten before Suarez hit a three to cut the lead down to 38-31. A pair of free throws from the senior forward further trimmed the lead back down to five.

With 25.0 seconds left, Suarez knocked down a corner three to cut the lead down to two.

Bailey Cowell missed the first half of the ensuing one-and-one, giving the Saints an opportunity to tie or take the lead, but a bad pass led to a turnover, and with 14.3 seconds, Hayden Jones was forced to commit his fifth and final foul.

Ethan Beyer went 1/2 from the line, giving St. James one final shot, but a traveling call on Suarez sent Kaden Lampron-DeSollar to the line to put the game away.

Ahrendt led all scorers with 22 points. Cowell chipped in 13.

Michael Suarez paced the Saints with 11 points. Jones, who had been averaging 29.3 points per game through the first three games, was held to just ten.

"It was their zone," said Monson. "Against a zone like that, you really need to be aggressive attacking the basket or you need to be able to hit some threes, that's something we weren't really hitting tonight but give Luverne credit, they played some really good defense."

The Saints (0-4) will head to St. Peter on Friday and Windom on Monday.