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Tender leads St. George’s

Dragons, Timberwolves in title game

St. George’s Will Tender shoots against Liberty in Friday’s semi in which Tender finished with 23 points. (Tyler Tjomsland)
St. George’s Will Tender shoots against Liberty in Friday’s semi in which Tender finished with 23 points. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Sometimes familiarity breeds respect.

Such is the case for St. George’s and Liberty, two Northeast 2B teams that met in the state semifinals Friday night at the Arena.

For the fourth time in four meetings this season, the undefeated and top-ranked Dragons won, this time 60-41.

They’ll move into their second consecutive title game, where they will play Morton-White Pass at 3 p.m.

“I definitely feel there is respect considering how tough our league is,” St. George’s Will Tender said after scoring a game-high 23 points. “You have to bring it every night or you’ll get beat.”

No one has defeated the Dragons in 49 games and Tender, a senior who has started every game since his freshman year, is a big reason why. Especially in this one.

His 16 first-half points were a key part of an 11-point SGS lead.

“He kept us in it the first half,” Dragons coach Ryan Peplinski said.

Ryan Thayer, who had 13 points before intermission, did the same for Liberty (23-8). The 6-foot-4 post finished with a team-high 16.

Tender not only finished with 23, he also spent most of the game hounding Liberty’s leading scorer Match Burnham, making him work for all of his 15 points, 11 of them at the free-throw line.

“Match is such a tough guy to guard and Will has just enough length to be competitive,” Peplinski said. “He works so hard on both ends.”

And that’s what all the Dragons (29-0) will have to do today.

“You have to get back on defense,” Peplinski said Morton-White Pass. “They are so fast and so athletic. They have multiple guys who can shoot it and put it on the floor.

“And they’re a heady team. Usually teams that play that way get a little out of control. They are very smart.”

The Dragons and Morton-White Pass met in the first round last year, with St. George’s toughing out a 73-69 overtime victory. The Timberwolves earned the rematch by holding off Bear Creek, 63-57, in the night’s first semifinal.

MWP has won 26 consecutive games by an average of more than 34 points. But it took all of sophomore Kaleb Poquette’s 22 points and a big second-half stretch to get past 22-3 Bear Creek, who lost to a B school for the first time this season.

The Timberwolves, whose tightest game had been 10 points, led 31-17 at one point in the first half but went the final 4 minutes, 23 seconds without a point. Meanwhile, Bear Creek was efficient, scoring on all but two possessions until intermission, cutting the lead to 31-29.

The Grizzlies’ run continued into the second half, reaching 25-6 at one point and helping them build a 42-37 lead. That’s when Poquette took command, scoring six points in a little more than a minute and igniting a game-deciding 17-0 run.

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