With their star player missing in action, the Seeley-Swan Blackhawks figured to be a less daunting opponent for the once-beaten St. Regis Tigers.
For half the game, that was not the case. But in the end, the Tigers rallied and cruised to a 64-49 win over Seeley Saturday night on the Blackhawks home court.
Highly regarded junior forward Owen Mercado was not in the lineup for the Blackhawks over the weekend, sidelined for undisclosed personal reasons.
Without Mercado on the court, Seeley-Swan dropped a squeaker to the surging Clark Fork Mountain Cats Friday in Seeley.
But the Blackhawks appeared to shake that off against the visiting Tigers, jumping out to a 15-9 first quarter lead and adding slightly to that advantage to take a 34-26 lead at the half.
After regaining their focus and composure during the break, St. Regis came out smoking in the third quarter.
Paced by the inside scoring of senior Nicholas Day and junior Andrew Sanford, and the outside shooting of underclassmen Tanner Day, John Pruitt and the Ball brothers, Adam and Caleb, St. Regis took control of the game.
They outscored the Blackhawks 24-8 in the third period to erase the halftime deficit and secure a 50-42 advantage with eight minutes to play.
With their defense refocused and wreaking havoc during the second half, the Tigers held off the Blackhawks the rest of the way to improve their season record to 13-1.
Sanford led St. Regis in scoring, dropping in 18 points to go with the 15 contributed by Nicholas Day. Pruitt, the Tigers impressive eighth grader, added 12, while both Ball brothers and Tanner Day scored nine apiece.
Quinian Ream led the Blackhawks and was the game’s leading scorer with 20 points.
The win made it a weekend sweep for St. Regis, who on Friday night fought off stubborn Noxon on the Tigers’ home floor.
Sanford and Nicholas Day were once again instrumental in the 63-49 win over the visiting Red Devils.
Together they battled and overcame the game-high 20 points scored by Noxon’s 6-5 senior post Rylan Weltz, who was a force inside before injuring his ankle, then fouling out with 3:28 remaining in the game.
The Tigers roared out to a 16-9 lead in the first quarter, with the inside combo of Day and Sanford leading the way. Behind a ball-hawking defense, St. Regis added to that lead, closing out the first half ahead 35-23.
With Noxon’s Weltz banging away underneath the Red Devils refused to fold and closed the gap to four points late in the third quarter before the Tigers’ trapping, full court pressure began to upset their offense momentum. Heading into the final eight minutes, St. Regis clung to a 46-40 lead.
The action underneath the basket continued to heat up throughout the quarter as the Red Devils stayed within striking distance until Weltz picked up his fourth foul with just under five minutes to play.
With Weltz out of the lineup temporarily, St. Regis began to slowly build a seven-point lead that the Red Devils once again whittled to four points with just over three minutes to play.
Weltz, playing despite the ankle injury he suffered earlier in the quarter, fouled out with just over three minutes to play. A steal and layup by Day stretched the Tigers’ lead to nine and a series of successful free throws by St. Regis iced the victory during the game’s final moments.
In the win over Noxon, Nicholas Day led the Tigers with 19 points, while Sanford contributed 13. St. Regis also got nine points from Caleb Ball and eight from Pruitt.
St. Regis will host Plains at 7 p.m. Friday. The Horsemen handed the Tigers their only loss of the year last month in Plains. The Tigers travel to Pablo to take on Two Eagle River this Saturday.