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Top-seeded Marquette ready for boys district basketball play after winning conference crown

By: Warren Mayes

The Marquette boys showed some moves when the won their first conference basketball championship since 2013.

The Marquette boys basketball team is the top-seeded team in its district and just won the conference championship. Front row from left: Hunter Hacala, Cole Petch, Ilyaas Harris, Robbie Norman, Jalen White, Jake Hansen, Ethan Jenkins. Back row: Owen Marsh, Cade Woodfin, Jeremiah Jennings, Drew Sears, Josh Merz, Devon Barshow, Jason Montgomery, and Ross Matzen.

The Mustangs went on the road and defeated the Webster Groves Statesmen 92-72 to capture the Suburban Conference Yellow Pool championship in Roberts Gym.

It’s the third conference championship ever for the Mustangs boys program.

“We were all so excited,” Marquette coach Eric Schweain said. “There was a great dance party in our locker room after the game.”

While Schweain didn’t say who was the best dancer or if he displayed his best steps, he did not hesitate to talk about what a good group of basketball players he has to coach.

“Our coaching staff has truly enjoyed working with these young men,” Schweain said. “They really are great people.”

The Mustangs will be begin postseason play with a Class 5 District 3 game Tuesday (Feb. 26) at Lafayette. The top-seeded Mustangs will meet Parkway South at 5 p.m. Parkway South defeated Washington 65-54 in an opening round game to advance and meet Marquette.

“I watched the Parkway South-Washington game and Parkway South pulled away in the second half,” Schweain said. “It will be a great challenge for us to top them again but we are going to try to only worry about what we can control.”

It’s a solid district field, Schweain said.

“It is an honor to be seeded first with a district that includes Marquette, Eureka, Lafayette, Parkway South and Washington,” Schweain said. “We have had tough games against all of them (except Washington who was not on the schedule) and know we will have to bring our best to survive this district.”

The other semifinal will be played at 7 and features Eureka squaring off against Lafayette. The two semifinal winners play at 7 p.m. Friday for the district championship.

The Mustang’ last district title came in 2012.

The top seed brings no added pressure to his team, Schweain said.

“This was a great bench mark but our team knows that everyone has the same record heading into districts,” Schweain said. “I’m sure ever team feels like they have a chance to win districts so we need to enjoy this but move on.”

Marquette hiked its record to 20-5 overall with the win over Webster Groves. The Mustangs were a perfect 6-0 in conference action. Marquette ended Webster Groves’ 17 year-reign as a conference champ. During that span the Statesmen went 117-2.

The Mustangs have had their problems playing Webster Groves in the past.

“Our wins against the Statesmen have been few and far between,” Schweain said. “They define what a great program should look like from the outside. Coach (Jay) Blossom is a good friend of mine and we have tried to emulate his keys to success.”

The conference championship capped a solid season for the Mustangs. Schweain said he has been impressed by the progress he has seen his squad make.

“I think the boys have been improving almost on a weekly basis,” Schweain said. “It took us a while to figure out our roles but I believe they have bought into this team and trusting their teammates.”

Blossom is stepping down as the coach at Webster Groves. So, the school honored him with Jay Blossom Night.

Schweain did not let all the hoopla affect his team. The veteran Mustangs were not rattled.

“We have just been going through this season with a business as usual approach,” Schweain said. “They really do thrive in atmospheres like we experienced last Thursday but the preparation remained the same.

“We really just focused on what we could control. We started slow in the game (down 10-2), but once we regained our composure, we could only concentrate on the next play.”

Marquette battled back to tie the Statesmen 33-33 at halftime.

That was huge, Schweain said.

“To be tied with Webster Groves, at their place, on Jay Blossom night,” Schweain said. “Yes, we were happy that the score was tied going into halftime. However, we knew we could still improve on the first half of action.”

The Mustangs took control in the second half. Marquette outscored Webster 24-13 in the third period to grab the lead and never gave it up.

“We shot the ball really well down the stretch. That allowed us to pull away a little bit and then we weathered their multiple runs in the fourth quarter,” Schweain said. “A great team, like Webster Groves, will continue to fight back until that final horn.

“They still hit four 3’s in the fourth quarter and scored 26 points. However, we hit many big shots down the stretch, as well. It really was like a heavyweight battle.”

Marquette put up 35 in the final quarter to close out the game.

Jason Montgomery and Devon Barshow each scored 22 points to spark the Mustangs.

But others stood out as well, Schweain said.

“Sophomore Ilyaas Harris did an amazing job handling their pressure and still scoring big baskets,” Schweain said. “Jalen White was his usual solid self on both ends of the floor. Josh Merz with his presence in the post. Jeremiah Jennings with his ability to stretch their defense and cover so much ground for us. Ethan Jenkins didn’t get his shot off against Webster but he is capable of hitting 3 or 4 threes the next game.

“Seniors Jake Hansen and Robbie Norman hit big 3’s for us in the game. I also have to mention seniors Drew Sears and Ross Matzen with their ability to keep everyone focused on the task at hand. It was a total team effort.”

The marked Schweain’s first conference championship as a head basketball coach. He was part of other conference championships just like his assistants Joe Scotino, Derek Hoffman, Eric Berry and Kyle Devine.

“They were all a part of this championship,” Schweain said. “I feel like I have the best coaching staff around. This was a tough conference with many great players and coaches to compete against.

“It is a lot of fun right now, but I think it will be even more fun when we see what these players do after high school in basketball. That is when the reality will settle in of this accomplishment.”

There’s still basketball to be played for Schweain and his Mustangs.

“I really don’t want this season to end,” Schweain said.

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