Last season, St. Mary's closed out its season by avenging a league loss from earlier in the season against Walsh. The Lancers took their MMA counterparts apart at the seams in the rematch and looked like a completely different team than they had in the first meeting. That momentum carried into the Manhattan Cup playoffs, where St. Mary's made a run all the way to the Manhattan Cup final for the first time in program history.
Following a major roster turnover and the graduation of all five starters, the Lancers were not expected to be major contenders again this season. They've even spent the entire season ranked behind fellow MMA small school Nichols, who they fell to in the first matchup between the two. However in the rematch this past Friday, St. Mary's played its most inspired ball of the season, and routed the Vikings. With one more game on tap prior to the postseason against another small school ranked in front of the Lancers all season, Cleveland Hill, we'd find out if St. Mary's had turned the corner or just found the perfect storm on Friday. By halftime, the answer had already been revealed - St. Mary's is playing for keeps right now, so if you're not, you'd best get out of their way.
Cory Kiebzak scored a game-high 15 points to lead St. Mary's past Cleveland Hill, 65-53, in a postseason-prepping nonleague matchup on Monday night. The Lancers next face Nichols in the quarterfinals of the Manhattan Cup playoffs this Thursday night at Canisius High School.
The game began as competitive as it appeared on paper, with the lead changing eight times in the opening quarter. Cleveland Hill got six points each from Aaron Phillips, Richie Sotero, and Jordan Parker, and used a 12-2 run to build a 22-18 lead after one quarter.
After seeing the ease by which the Eagles got to the basket, the Lancers switched to a zone defense in the second quarter, and completely swung the momentum in their favor. Five different players scored for St. Mary's in the second stanza, while the Lancers held Cleveland Hill to just a single field goal. The result was a 15-3 quarter that created a Lancer lead of 33-25 at halftime.
In the third, the Eagles got within five points with 2:54 remaining in the quarter after buckets from Rayshawn Smalls and Jared Watkins. That's when Dion Strong came in for St. Mary's and made his presence felt immediately. Strong drilled a pair of treys and dished an assist to Paul Rath on the fast break to push his team's lead back to 46-37 heading towards the final frame.
The lead only increased down the stretch, as the Lancers continued to push the pace and get back defensively. St. Mary's was up by as many as 15 points in the final two minutes. Latrell Tyson scored six of his eight points in the quarter.
In the past two games, the Lancers have done an outstanding job of keeping teams from making a run against them. Against Nichols, they only allowed consecutive field goals to be scored three times in the game. Last night, the Eagles only managed to do so four times, and two of those came during the 12-2 first quarter run.
Rath finished with 14 points and an emphatic swat to prevent a fast break basket during his final home game as a senior.
Parker scored 15 points to lead Cleveland Hill, while Phillips and Sotero each added 10 points.