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St. Bede senior Joe Pyszka (No. 52) goes up for a shot as he is defended by La Salle-Peru’s Devin Stoker (right) and Jens Soderholm (behind) during the Bruins’ 76-69 victory Tuesday at the Academy. NewsTribune photo/Amanda Whitlock
Since Saturday night, Joe Pyszka and his St. Bede boys basketball teammates had one thing on their minds.
“We’ve been telling ourselves to stay focused,” Pyszka said. “Since the end of the Marquette game (a 69-68 victory on Saturday), we’ve been thinking about (the L-P) game and how bad we want to win it. We stayed focused, we practiced hard and got it done.”
The Bruins got it done by jumping on the Cavaliers early and leading wire-to-wire for a 76-69 victory Tuesday night before a standing room only crowd at the Academy.
“It feels great,” Pyszka said about St. Bede’s second win against L-P in the last three years. “It just feels so nice winning at home (against) L-P (with this) huge crowd. There’s nothing like it.”
St. Bede senior Brad Groleau grabbed the opening tip and scored four seconds into the game, sparking a 19-5 opening run by the Bruins.
“I don’t know (why we started so strong). If I could bottle that,” St. Bede coach Mike Kilmartin said. “We pushed the ball. I think we really came out ready to play. We have almost all seniors and it’s the last time they were going to play L-P.”
The 6-foot-7 Pyszka caused the Cavs problems down low early, scoring nine points in the first quarter — including a three-point play for a 17-5 Bruin lead — to help St. Bede to a 29-16 advantage after eight minutes.
“The big thing was they had no answer for (Pyszka) early,” Kilmartin said.
Pyszka had plenty of help during the Bruins’ explosive opening quarter.
Senior Damin Smith also scored nine points — including a 3-pointer — and classmate Sam Lucas knocked down a pair of long-range shots.
“(Perimeter) shooting opens (Pyszka) up even more,” Kilmartin said. “If we don’t shoot like that, they can collapse on him.”
The Bruins (20-5) led by as many as 15 points in the second quarter, but the Cavs responded.
L-P junior Devin Stoker sparked an 11-2 Cav run by splitting a pair of free throws before tipping in a basket the next trip down the floor.
Classmate Noah Lamboley drained a pair of 3-pointers and senior Jens Soderholm scored two baskets — including a fast break dunk — to pull the Cavs with four at 35-31.
“They started hitting some really tough shots,” Pyszka said. “We had good defense, but they hit some tough shots and got some momentum going. We just weathered the storm.”
The Bruins weathered the storm well enough to take a 40-33 lead into halftime. The Cavs continued to make a push after halftime, closing the third quarter on a 6-0 run to enter the fourth down 51-49.
St. Bede responded with a 10-3 run to start the fourth quarter behind 3-pointers from Lucas and Groleau and three-point plays from Pyszka and Smith to take a 64-54 lead with 5:51 left.
But the Cavs weren’t done yet.
L-P pulled within two twice more - at 64-62 with 3:08 left on a 3-pointer by Soderholm and at 71-69 on a 3-pointer by Jon VonBehren with 18.4 seconds left.
“I’m surprised they kept shooting the ball when they had the lead,” L-P coach Jim Cherveny said.
However, the Bruins held on for the victory thanks to a three-point play from Smith and two free throws each from Grant Bosnich and Groleau in the final 33.5 seconds.
“It came down to free throws,” Pyszka said. “We missed a few to start the fourth, but then we found our rhythm at the line and knocked them down.”
Pyszka led St. Bede with 26 points and 11 rebounds, while Smith finished with 22 points and nine boards.
“It’s just working your hardest, playing your hardest every play and just wanting it more than the other guy,” Pyszka said about his performance down low. “In the second half, they brought a lot of helpside off the weakside — a lot of doubles — so I just had to look for my shooters.”
Soderholm paced the Cavs (13-8) with a game-high 29 points, while Lamboley had 23 points.
Notes: L-P won the sophomore game 52-51. Erik Milaicki hit the winning basket with 3.6 seconds left. It’s the second game in a row he hit the winning shot with 10 seconds or less remaining. He finished with 11 points. Ryan Atilano led L-P (15-4) with 14 points. Jarret Olson led St. Bede (18-2) with 18 points. … St. Bede honored WLPO broadcaster Lanny Slevin with an honorary diploma. Slevin, who will retire at the end of the school year after 40 years calling area sports, also was presented with a plaque from Cathy Miller, chairman of the board of Miller Group Media, and president Joyce McCullough. ... St. Bede superindendent Ted Struck was ejected with 13.7 seconds left after a verbal altercation with VonBehren.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.
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