It’s full speed ahead for St. Mary’s basketball

Teak Phillips |

St. Mary's High School's basketball team takes pride in its full-throttle approach to the game, and it shows.

The team's defense set the tone early against St. Francis Borgia at home Dec. 8, leading to a 61-39 win. It was the second win in two days for the team from south St. Louis, following a 73-57 win against Lutheran St. Charles.

Against Borgia, freshman guard Yuri Collins used his speed and agility to lead St. Mary's with 14 points. Sophomore guard Tony Burkes added 12 points, sophomore center Yahuza Rasas had 10 points and sophomore guard Matt Brotherton had nine points for St. Mary's. A student cheering section clamored for junior Alex Sakomato to get playing time at the end of the game, and he rewarded them with four points, including a basket on an athletic move under the basket.

"We play good team defense," St. Mary's coach Kelvin Lee said, "and our guys were ready from the beginning."

He cited the work his players put into practices and the return of Burkes to the lineup. "He's that go-to guy. He can get us a bucket when we need one."

However, the coach called the game "a total team effort. We got contributions from everyone. They just played within themselves. If we continue to play good defense and rebound the way we're doing, this team has a chance to do something special."

After a quick start by St. Mary's, Borgia climbed back to within two points before St. Mary's took a 14-9 lead after the first quarter on a three-point shot. St. Mary's led 29-14 at half and never trailed.

Senior guard Zach Ortinau of St. Mary's noted that Borgia has always been a tough competitor, so he wanted to help his team come out strong, quick and take an early lead.

Lee, who is in his second year as coach after being head coach at Chaminade for 16 years and for a year at Clyde C. Miller Career Academy, brings an attitude of winning, Ortinau said. "He's one of the best coaches I've ever had," he said of the man whose team won a state championship in 2009 and who has coached two players who ended up in the NBA. "It's my last year with him and I've really enjoyed it so far. I'm looking forward to the rest of the year."

Burkes said Borgia is a good team with the ability to score from the three-point line as well as inside. "We got up on them and held them," he said. "Coach Lee told us what the game plan was, and we came out and played hard. That's what we plan to do for the rest of the year."

The team works hard at it stamina and pace in practices, Burkes said. "He runs us so we have the energy" to keep pressure on opponents, he noted. "Our goal is to win games and go to state."

St. Mary's improved its record to 3-3, and Borgia went to 3-1. Borgia won the gold division championship of its tournament with a 73-68 win over North Tech Nov. 28. Center Alex Movila, a 6-foot-7 junior, had 24 points in that game and senor guard Luke DeLine had 21.

Borgia, which won 20 games and reached the Class 4 quarterfinals the last two seasons, hadn't played in several days and came out flat in the game against St. Mary's, said their coach, Dave Neier. "I don't think our kids were really prepared to play. ... Our kids didn't have that intensity," he said, pointing to numerous missed layups and free-throws.

Neier said St. Mary's was more than ready: "They were the more aggressive team, they just went after it and played harder than we did."

His team has had good practices and played extremely well in the tournament, the Borgia coach said. The loss serves as a good lesson, he added.

As a coach of a team from a Catholic school, he sees his role as setting an example in the treatment of his players, the opponent and its coach and especially in respecting the officials. "They're going to make some mistakes, it can go both ways. I'm not one of those coaches that screams and hollers at officials. I will just talk to them if I think they made a mistake. They're trying to do a really tough job. And you show your kids how important that is by the way you act in the game."

Prayer support also is important, Neier said, noting that the team prays before and after games. "While you're playing the game it's got to be the most important thing, but when the game is over, there's a lot more important things than basketball," he explained.

Lee sends his players quotes from Scripture each morning, and the players engage with it. Ortinau said it translates on the court. "We respect our opponent, just like tonight."

The St. Mary's coach said, "We're playing for someone much greater than us — it's God, He's our head coach." The students, he said, need a foundation in their lives, and "that's what we're giving them." 

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