BELLEVILLE — After knocking off the defending Missouri Class 3A state champion Wednesday at the Chick-fil-A Classic, Belleville East had as much or even more difficulty a day later against the 1-9 McCluer Comets.
With as many as four freshmen on the floor at a time, McCluer led most of the way before East fought back down the stretch for a 57-54 victory.
"We were extremely lucky to win that game," said Belleville East coach Abel Schrader, whose 12-5 team committed 21 turnovers and trailed by six with 3:25 remaining. "They outplayed us. It could have been a letdown game, but you can't use that as an excuse. Our energy and effort and intensity was not even close to what it was last night."
Althoff (13-4) came from behind to beat Normandy 63-55 in the second game Thursday.
East beat defending Missouri Class 3A state champ Madison College Prep 43-40 on Wednesday, but had trouble gaining any traction against the Comets.
Riding a 23-point night from freshman Ryan Warren-Hogue, the Comets played like they had nothing to lose. McCluer led 38-32 heading into the fourth quarter and maintained a six-point lead until East's defensive pressure and rebounding began to take its toll.
The Lancers got 17 points from senior guard Darreon Reddick and nine from Austin Cox.
"We tried our freshman group out for the first time this year and they played pretty well," said McCluer coach Brent Rueter, a Nashville High School graduate and the brother of former major league pitcher Kirk Rueter. "We've got some talent coming up, so we were playing four freshmen out there at times and a sophomore. They handled it pretty well.
"We panicked a little down the stretch and you're going to expect that out of freshmen and sophomores."
A freshman also helped the Lancers down the stretch when Rico Sylvester, Jr., nailed a 3-pointer with 1:40 remaining to give East a 51-50 lead,
After McCluer retook the lead, East senior Cameron Hunter answered with 59 seconds remaining. East's Jacob Parker then added two free throws with 13 seconds remaining.
However, the Comets still had a chance to force overtime when the 5-foot-6 Warren-Hogue was fouled while attempting an off-balance 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds to play.
Warren-Hogue made his first two free throws to reach seven in a row from the foul line Thursday, but his third attempt bounced off the rim and East hung on.
"We're very lucky," Schrader said. "We made some very costly turnovers in some crucial situations that we've got to have seniors not make. We didn't do a good job and you've got to give them credit, they were ready to play.
"We were not."
Althoff 63, Normandy 55
Normandy jumped on Althoff early and often, leading 10-2 a couple of minutes into the game and 20-8 after one quarter.
The Crusaders (13-4) finally shook off the cold and began to heat up thanks to a 12-1 run in the second quarter fueled by freshman Jordan Goodwin. Goodwin scored 11 of his 26 points in the first half and they helped Althoff cut Normandy's lead to 29-28 by halftime.
Althoff sophomore Brendon Gooch had 14 points and sophomore Keenen Young had 10 as the Crusaders moved into a showdown against city rival Belleville West at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
"The only thing colder than our shooting was the weather outside," said Althoff coach Greg Leib, whose team was 12-for-27 from the floor in the first half and 16-for-40 after three quarters. "The shots weren't falling, but we kept attacking the basket and we hit a few key buckets when we needed to.
"We kept our poise. They went on some of those runs and got up and we didn't lose our focus. We kept plugging away and kept doing our jobs."
Normandy (6-8) still clung to a 39-37 lead heading to the fourth quarter, but Althoff ran off 10 straight points to create some breathing room.
Igniting the run were a three-point play by Goodwin and a 3-pointer by Gooch.
"Jordan Goodwin just played so hard," Leib said. "His sheer will alone got us through some tough stretches. (He and Gooch) did a nice job of hawking the ball. I don't get much credit for that, they do that on their own through their sheer will and determination.
"They play hungry and I saw Kevin Renner go in there a couple times to get balls and keep it alive for us, too."
Normandy got 26 points from explosive senior Gerard Fuller and 18 from 6-6 senior Tarrick Blair, with 6-4 senior Bryson Jenkins adding nine more.
"I don't know how many wins they've got, but they're going to be a tough out for somebody over in Missouri at the end of the year," Leib sad. "We were just able to persevere and keep battling through the thing."