HERSCHER | Seton Academy quickly learned Friday that Catholic League South rival Leo wasn't going to rollover for the Class 2A No. 2 state-ranked Sting.
So Seton gave the Lions little room to move.
Behind a ferocious half-court defense and effective play from Jordan Foster and J.R. Tolliver, Seton was able to pull away from Leo late for a 48-38 victory in the Class 2A Herscher Sectional championship.
"It was a well-played game defensively ... we wanted to limit Tybias (Scott) and (Russell) Woods, I thought we did a good job of that," said Seton coach Brandon Thomas. "We played a well-balanced game, but we've yet to put together a complete game. Once we do that, we'll be a tougher team to beat."
Seton (27-4) executed its gameplan successfully, limiting Woods and Scott to nine and six points, respectively, while forcing the Lions into 10 first-half turnovers. Leo (16-14) spent a majority of the half fighting to get across half court, and four of its giveaways occurred during that span.
"They're just a tough defensive team, and they took adavantage of turnovers and missed opportunities," Leo coach Noah Cannon said. "We stayed competitive in the first half, but we missed a lot of open shots down the stretch that allowed Seton to pull ahead."
Neither team looked ready to run away early, as Seton held a 9-7 lead after one quarter. Tolliver hit the back end of a pair of free throws that gave the Sting their biggest lead of the first half at 18-13, but Leo wouldn't quit. Woods scored on a layup and Sean Moore added two baskets at the line to cut Seton's lead to 20-17 at the break.
"We weren't executing to our ability for a while in the first half, but in the second half, we came out with more intensity," Thomas said. "We found ourselves in a lot of scoring opportunities early in the third quarter, and converted a lot of easy baskets that allowed us to gain some breathing room."
Seton opened the third period much like it had the first half, trading baskets with the Lions. But after Karon Braggs' layup brought Leo within 24-23 with 6:01 left in the period, the Sting took over. Kamal Shasi scored his first basket of the game to start a decisive 14-0 run, and Seton never looked back. Mark Weems scored six of his eight points during the spurt, including a fastbreak layup off of a steal that ended the move. Leo came within 44-34 at the 2:50 mark, but couldn't close the gap any further.
Foster scored a game high 15 to paced Seton, while Tolliver scored 12 and pulled down seven rebounds. After falling to Hales Franciscan in the sectional final last year, also at Herscher, Thomas said getting over the hump was good to see.
"At this point of the season, it really just feels good to advance after falling short a year ago," Thomas said. "It was a well-played game on both ends, and give kudos to Leo's coach for producing a solid game plan.
"We just pushed it out there tonight and really fought hard as a team to pick up a win over a tough opponent."