The Tigers remained undefeated in the ICL with a 54-33 win over McDonald.
By DOUG CHAPIN
McDONALD -- Springfield High moved one step closer to another Inter-County League title Tuesday with a 54-33 victory over McDonald behind a 20-point effort from senior guard Pat Birch.
Birch scored 18 of his points in the first half as the Tigers, ranked ninth in Division III in the latest Associated Press statewide poll, opened a 31-15 lead.
Senior Keaton Bullen scored all nine of his points in the last 8:15 of the game as Springfield pulled away, but only after the Blue Devils had trimmed the lead to four in the third quarter.
"McDonald played real hard. Give them credit, they came ready to play," Springfield coach Jeff Brink said. "For the first three quarters they outworked us. But in the fourth quarter the kids raised their game a level and took it up a notch."
Defense jells: The Tigers' defense, which played well throughout, did turn it up in the final quarter, holding McDonald to two points on 1-of-9 shooting while forcing four turnovers.
For the game, Springfield forced 19 turnovers while committing just seven. McDonald shot just 29 percent (14-of-35) for the game from the floor.
Junior post Dan Schuler was a big part of the Tigers' defense, holding McDonald's top scorer, Kevin Stonestreet, to a difficult 10 points. Schuler, usually one of the Tigers' top scorers, tallied just four, but was a key to the Tigers' offense with his excellent passing ability.
"Schuler made some great passes, he's the focal point of our offense," Brink said. "When the other team collapses on him, it opens up our guys on the perimeter."
Shooting: The Tigers (15-1, 11-0) shot 22-of-54, including 6-of-20 from the 3-point line. Jim Mash backed Birch with 10 points and both had excellent floor games. Birch added eight rebounds, three assists and three steals and Mash had five rebounds and six assists.
McDonald (7-9, 5-6) got 11 points and eight rebounds from Nick Testa and seven rebounds and four assists from Stonestreet.
Birch just about couldn't miss for the Tigers in the first half, making all three of his 3-point attempts and 4-of-6 on 2-pointers. Springfield's largest lead in the half was 18 points, 29-11, with 1:40 remaining.
Four Blue Devils combined for the first 10 points of the third quarter before Birch scored Springfield's first second-half points on two free throws with 3:22 remaining. McDonald then got two more buckets to make it 33-29 with 2:30 to play.
Defense: Mash then tallied the next three Springfield field goals before Bullen sank a 3-pointer with 15 seconds to go after a steal to put the Tigers ahead 42-31. Springfield's solid fourth-quarter defense and three buckets by Bullen never allowed the Blue Devils to get back into the game.
"McDonald has hard-nosed kids, they're scrappy and aggressive," Brink said. "They tested our kids and we needed to have some people step up. I thought Bullen's 3-pointer at the end of the third was big and we held them to two points in the last quarter."