St. John Central's boys basketball team needed a signature win.
The Fighting Irish of Coach Kevin Lahna got just that Saturday evening against cross-street rival Bellaire inside the 'House of Champions.'
After building a 19-point lead on two occassions in the first half, the Fighting Irish ended up having to hold on by a thread to post a 66-62 victory before a loud, boisterous crowd in a mutual season opener.
ST. JOHN’S D.J. Shoemaker is fouled as he goes up for a shot against Bellaire’s Elliott Elison during Saturday night’s game in Bellaire. Shoemaker and the Irish prevailed, 66-62. Additional images may be found at cu.timesleaderonline.com
"This is a great win for our program and the St. John Central community," an elated Lahna said. "We played well in the first half and we started breaking down a little bit in the second half. Give Bellaire credit because they continued to fight back, but we were able to make some plays down the stretch."
The Irish came out of the gates shooting the lights out. They drained six first-half triples and led 23-11 after one and it was 30-11 and 32-13 before the Big Reds finally were able to get somewhat untracked and make a run to get within eight at the intermission.
"Our lack of skill doesn't afford us the opportunity to get down by that many and be able to come back," said second-year Bellaire boss J.R. Battista. "To credit our kids, though, they fought hard and came all the way back. St. John was obliging us by throwing it to us, but we had chances to make it even more interesting. But, hey, congrats to St. John's because they made some tough shots in the first half."
The Big Reds got as close as three in the third, but St. John pushed it back to a 10-point cushion at the third-quarter stop at 55-45.
The Irish, who struggled at the line, maintained the 10-point lead with less than 2 minutes to show, but junior Nick Patrone and Nathan Steele dialed long distance from Bellaire following Green miscues, making it 63-59.
Malik Ford cashed one-of-two at the line, making it a 64-59 reading. However, Bellaire's Ryan Callarik got an inside bucket and then the Irish missed a pair at the charity stripe.
Bellaire was fouled, sank one-of-two and had two offensive rebounds for point-blank layups that could have tied the game, but neither would stay down.
St. John was fouled with 1.9 seconds showing and Garrett Holubeck sank two for the final reading.
"I think the difference this year is we have resiliency," Lahna said. "We have that will to win and being able to hold on and find a way is huge. We always have to make it interesting. I was thinking we were heading to overtime, but I guess the good Lord was on our side."
St. John Central received impressive performances from Alex Francis and D.J. Shoemaker. Francis rained in six treys and finished with 20, while Shoemaker was a load on the interior and netted 17.
Bellaire was led in the scoring column by Patrone's 17 and Callarik's 14. Kenny Hess added 12.
The Big Reds are now off until Friday when a talented Harrison Central combine comes calling.
"We have to go back to the drawing board," Battista said. "We have to keep working. We have a lot of young guys, so we just have to keep working. I really believe good things come to those who work hard."
The teams combined for 56 turnovers.
No reserve game was contested.
ST. JOHN (66) - Shoemaker 5, 6-12 17; Francis 6, 2-6 20; Alvey 3, 3-7 9; Palmer 0, 0-0 0; Imer 2, 0-0 5; Holubeck 1, 4-5 6; Ford 0, 1-2 1; Bossell 1, 0-0 2; Melko 2, 2-4 6; Totals: 20, 18-36 66. BELLAIRE (62) - Steele 2, 0-0 6; Kimbro 3, 0-0 7; Callarik 6, 2-5 14; Westlake 2, 0-0 4; Back 1, 0-0 2; Hess 4, 4-9 12; Ellison 1, 0-0 2; Patrone 7, 2-3 17; Totals: 26, 8-17 62.
Three-Point Goals: SJC - Shoemaker, Francis (6), Imer. B - Steele (2), Kimbro, Patrone.