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St. Paul downs East Linn Christian 74-67 to place program-best fifth in final season as member of Tri-River Conference

Although there wasn't much riding on the outcome, you wouldn't have known it by the way the St. Paul and East Linn Christian Academy boys basketball teams played in the regular season finale Thursday.

Perhaps smarting from the 56-55 loss the Bucks handed them in their first matchup, the Eagles took it to the home team in the early going, leading by as many as 16 points in the second quarter.

SETH GORDON - St. Paul post Alex Dela Cerda goes up for a basket in traffic as the Buckaroos defeated the East Linn Christian Eagles 74-67 on Thursday to finish the season 14-10 overall. A sophomore, Dela Cerda is one of several members from the Bucks who will transition with the team to 1A competition next year.
From that point forward however, St. Paul caught fire from the perimeter and never really cooled down, turning in one of its most efficient offensive performances of the season to rally for a 74-67 victory.

"For a game that wasn't supposed to mean anything, both teams played really hard," head coach Todd Swan said. "It was fun."

The Eagles used a 7-0 run to pull ahead 15-7 midway through the first quarter, then stretched their advantage to 32-16 by opening the second quarter on a 15-4 binge.

Swan took a timeout to snap his team out of the daze it seemed to be in. St. Paul got more aggressive offensively, especially from the perimeter, as it sank four 3-pointers in the final 3:43 of the second quarter, fueling a 15-4 run that made it 36-31 at the break.

"They're a great team and they wanted to beat us after how last time ended on a last-second shot, but we finally turned it around," senior Campbell Smith said. "We knew we could play good basketball and just started doing it."

It took the Bucks nearly four minutes to pull level with the Eagles in the third quarter, but a trio of 3-pointers, including two by Jaidyn Jackson, powered St. Paul to a 9-4 run that gave the home side a 55-51 lead entering the fourth.

Back-to-back buckets by Alex Dela Cerda and Campbell Smith gave the Bucks a 62-55 lead with 5:26 to play, but the Eagles (8-16, 3-9) made it tougher on themselves when an assistant coach was assessed two technical fouls for arguing with the referees and was ejected from the game.

St. Paul made two of the four ensuing free throws to push the lead to nine points, but didn't really put the game away until Jackson and Justin Herberger scored consecutive fast-break layups to make it 68-55 with 3:51 to go.

"There were a couple of games that we could have won that kind of knocked us out of the playoffs, but we rebounded well and played good ball," Campbell Smith said. "Now we're going into 1A on a really high note."

Jackson led the way with 16 points, but three other players also scored in double figures, as Campbell Smith and Herberger had 14 apiece and Holden Smith finished with 11. Dela Cerda also had eight points in the win.

The Bucks (14-10, 5-7) finished one game behind Regis (16-9 ,6-6) for the final spot in the district tournament and sit at No. 15 in the OSAA rankings, their highest-ever finish.

"Being the smallest 2A school and going 14-10, that's pretty cool," Campbell Smith said. "Two years ago we were going to get beat by 40 no matter what and now we're competitive and beating teams."

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