Eureka, De Smet Jesuit square off in boys sectional basketball battle
By: Warren Mayes
Eureka coach Craig Kennedy and De Smet coach Kevin Poelker have respect for each other and their teams.
However, something has to give when the Kennedy’s Wildcats meet the Poekler’s Spartans at 6 p.m. Wednesday (March 6) at Maryville.
De Smet Jesuit (22-6) earned its sectional berth with a 64-57 victory against Metro Catholic Conference rival CBC in the Class 5 District 4 championship at Parkway Central. It was the first district title for the Spartans since 2011.
Eureka (18-10) thumped Lafayette 56-38 to win the Class 5 District 3 championship game at Marquette. The Wildcats district title if the fifth under Kennedy but the first once since 2002.
“Eureka is a physical and athletic team,” Poelker said. “They are hard-nosed and play tough defense. The really pound the boards and battle you.”
Kennedy said his club knows it will be meeting a talented squad. De Smet defeated Eureka 80-53 in the annual holiday tournament last December at Meramec.
“DeSmet is big, skilled, well-coached, and led by a very intelligent point guard,” Kennedy said. “They did beat us at Meramec pretty handily in a game that was close at the half and we imploded for about 4 minutes in the second half.
(Nolan) Berry didn’t play in that game for them and Gino Green didn’t play for us. Obviously, it makes both teams better to have those kids.”
Berry missed a good part of the season after breaking both arms in a fall before the season began. Berry, who will play at Butler, averages 20.6 points a game.
Eureka met the conference rival Lancers for the district title. Lafayette carried a 10-game winning streak into the game.
“We did not address at all how well Lafayette had been playing; we tried to focus on what we wanted to get done rather than on them,” Kennedy said.
Although Eureka scored a convincing victory, Kennedy said it was not a top-notch performance from the Wildcats.
“In all honesty, I thought we were very average offensively,” Kennedy said. “We shared the ball well, but we didn’t shoot it well. We were very solid defensively and made it difficult for Lafayette to get any clean looks.”
De Smet also played a conference rival for the district title in CBC. The teams were familiar with each other.
“We knew we had to find a way to beat CBC,” Poelker said. “They were the clear favorite to win the district at the start of the season and they were the No. 1 seed in the district. Our focus was to play hard and play together.” The Spartans did just that and earned a win over the Cadets.
“We played very well. CBC is a talented team,” Poelker said. “We had to play well to beat them. The players did a great job. They worked very hard, played together, and played smart.
“It was a big win. We get to continue our season after beating a very good team.”
Overall, Kennedy was pleased with how his club played in the districts.
“The kids beat two very solid, well-coached teams,” Kennedy said. “Goal met.”
Now, the Wildcats have a sectional game to play as a reward even if the game is against one of the area’s top teams.
“The kids are excited to still be playing — against anyone,” Kennedy said. “Tyler Jordan said at practice yesterday, ‘I’m not used to still playing at this time of year . . . I like it!’”
To advance to the quarterfinals, Eureka has to play well.
“We have to limit turnovers,” Kennedy said. “If we get the same number of possessions that they do, I like our chances. Most importantly, we have to keep their marquee players from beating us.”
Poekler has his boys ready to play.
“We are working hard to prepare for a good Eureka team,” Poelker said. “We need to continue to play hard and play together.”
For De Smet to play in the quarterfinals Saturday, Poelker said his Spartans must not be looking ahead.
“Find a way to score one more than Eureka,” Poelker said. “We need to match their intensity and toughness.”