The talk all weekend on the sidelines of Mizzou Arena was centered around one thing—What is wrong with St. Louis basketball? For the first time in a long time, maybe ever, St. Louis had a team playing in each of the girls’ and boys’ Class 4 and 5 state semifinals. That’s eight games and eight St. Louis area teams. The fact they made it all the way to state showed the region can flex its hoops muscle. But once they got underway nearly all the locals were brushed into the consolation heap. Not a single girls’ team won a semifinal. Incarnate Word, the two-time defending Class 5 champion, was upended 46-43 by eventual champion Rock Bridge. It proved to be the true state championship match as the Bruins would paste Blue Springs two days later in the final. Fort Zumwalt West (25-7), making its second final four appearance in three years, was throttled 43-27 by Blue Springs. They would fall the following day to Incarnate Word (26-7) in the consolation game.
Westminster (26-5) lost its semifinal to last year’s runner-up Smithville, 47-37. The Wildcats were never able to find their footing offensively. They shot 27 percent from the field in their first final four appearance. In spite of their rough shooting, they did trim a 10-point lead down to three late, but Smithville pulled away.
Miller Career (23-6) watched a double-digit halftime lead evaporate in its semifinal with Republic. The Phoenix, St. Louis’s top ranked small school team, were upended 56-49. Republic would take out Smithville the following day for the Class 4 title. Miller Career pinned a 59-50 loss on Westminster for third-place.
The boys’ side fared better, but it took some time to get there. Marquette (20-12) was hammered 59-42 by Nixa, the state’s top-ranked team, in its semifinal. The Mustangs would then lose the next night to Lee’s Summit West and take fourth. Imagine (23-9) dropped a 63-60 heartbreaker to Springfield Hillcrest in its semifinal. They were then beaten in overtime by Liberty North from Kansas City in the consolation game.
The results were hard to take for anyone with St. Louis ties who loves basketball. Fortunately, the boys saved their best for last. Both McCluer North and Soldan won their semifinals and would go on to win state championships. McCluer North (28-1) toppled Nixa, which had won 30 straight games, for its second straight Class 5 title and third in six years. Soldan (25-5) crushed Liberty North and then rolled to a 55-42 win over Hillcrest for the Class 4 title. It was heartening to see the biggest prizes on the boys’ side come rolling back down Interstate 70 with the locals. It took much of the sting out of a rough weekend for the hometown teams.
But is there cause for concern after the best teams St. Louis has to offer, especially on the girls side, were beaten? Are we seeing a shift in the balance of power? I’d argue no. This year the best teams knocked one another off just to get to state. Incarnate eked out a win over St. Joseph’s Academy in the quarterfinal round. Vianney ran into McCluer North in the quarterfinal round, too. The Angels and Golden Griffins were the area’s No. 2 ranked teams. It just so happened that they both matched up with No. 1 before they reached Mizzou Arena.
Maybe next year the paths will be different and more of our locals can trot onto Norm Stewart Court and show the state what they’re made of instead of devouring one another on their way. Then we won’t be asking What’s wrong with St. Louis? We’ll be asking about where to get a bigger trophy case.