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Crusaders use late 'D,' reach title game
Saxony Lutheran held off upset-minded West County to win 44-41 in semifinals
Saxony Lutheran guard Clay Roth finished with two points Tuesday night.
Yet the 5-foot-7 junior played the role of hero with his defensive prowess.
Roth picked off an inbounds pass with 5.2 seconds remaining at halfcourt and finished a layup to cap a wild finish and send the host Crusaders into the Class 3 District 3 championship with a 44-41 win over West County.
The Bulldogs had possession out of bounds with 5.2 seconds remaining and trailing 42-41.
West County coach Chad Mills called a timeout to set up a last-second play, but Roth had other plans.
"Coach was just saying just play tough [defense]," Roth said. "Get on the ball and if you can't get the steal, go for the foul. The ball was on [their] end of the court so just play tough [defense] and try to get a steal if you can, and I was able to come away with the steal. He stopped at the last second and I saw the ball kind of float and I just went for it and was able to come away with it."
The small but quick guard stepped in front of the Bulldogs' Cole Holbert, poked the pass away and raced to the other end to finish the layup.
"I didn't even want them to get a shot," Saxony coach Sam Sides said. "We had three fouls to give so that's a luxury in that situation. I told Clay you go get the ball or you foul them, one of those two things. He's quick and he made a big play right there and picked it and kind of took the pressure off."
It was a wild finish to a back-and-forth game.
Saxony took an 11-6 lead after the opening quarter despite shooting just 1 of 9 from beyond the arc and 2 of 14 overall. However, the Crusaders benefited from a perfect 6 of 6 from the charity stripe.
"Were usually a better shooting team," Sides said. "But you get under district circumstances and you get a little tighter. We hesitated a little bit, and I told them we can't hesitate. West County had a lot to do with that. They didn't give you much inside and they forced you out of rhythm a little bit, and normally we hit some of those shots."
The shooting woes continued in the second for the top-seeded Crusaders. Saxony went 0 of 6 from long range and just 2 of 7 from inside the arc to muster nine points in the quarter.
West County strung together enough offense to cut the lead to 20-17 by halftime.
"They're hard to guard," Sides said. "They did a good job running their offense. We tried to mix up our defenses, and we did a pretty good job sometimes."
Gus Klaus and Kristopher Cook buried 3-pointers to open the second half and give the Crusaders their largest lead at 26-17. The Bulldogs fought back with a 6-0 spurt, but Cook answered with another trey to stretch the lead to 29-23.
"We got in rhythm a little bit better," Sides said of the third quarter advantage. "I told them you can't doubt yourself. You can't hesitate. We got some good shooters. We finally hit some. We're a good enough shooting team if we get good looks and be patient. We're going to make enough of them usually."
Added Roth: "We just got some steals and pulled a little break and that's what we needed in that third quarter, a little spurt."
The Crusaders took a 39-30 into the fourth quarter.
Saxony led 42-32 before the Bulldogs made a push.
Cole Holbert buried a jumper and Kyle Ross followed with a four-point play to cut the lead to 42-38 with 4 minutes, 30 seconds remaining.
Ross buried another trey with just under three minutes remaining to cut the lead to 42-41.
The Crusaders committed a turnover just more than two minutes left, and the Bulldogs patiently worked the ball around the perimeter.
West County finally attacked with just under twenty seconds left as Holbert missed a fade-away jumper from the free-throw line, but the Bulldogs' Steven Barnett grabbed the rebound and looked to have a jumper in the lane before Matt Willis swatted the attempt and Saxony recovered the ball.
The Bulldogs had one last chance after Klaus missed the front end of a one-and-one but Roth stole the show.
"It was a [win]," Sides said. "But they're a good and tough team to play against. They did a lot of good things. They're strong, and they put a lot of pressure on. They controlled the pace of the game, which I was concerned about, and they did that and we didn't shoot the ball exceptionally well, but we made some big plays when we had to."
SAXONY (44) -- Gus Klaus 10, Kristopher Cook 10, Clayton Carver 8, Clay Roth 2, Matt Willis 3, Gabriel Bohnert 11. FG 12, FT 13-18, F 9. (3-pointers: Carver 2, Klaus, Cook 2. Fouled out: none)
WEST COUNTY (41) -- Jesse Waters 4, Justin Lashley 10, Cole Holbert 7, Tate Watson 2, Kyle Ross 12, Steven Barnett 6. FG 17, FT 2-3, F 18. (3-pointers: Holbert, Ross 2. Fouled out: none)