By CHUCK HOUSTEAU
SALEM -- Crestview High knew it had a tall task to tackle in hopes of advancing to the Division III district championship game.
The third-seeded Rebels (16-7) faced a taller and more athletic St. Thomas Aquinas team while trying to extend their 12-game winning streak and advance past the second-seeded Knights.
Monday, Crestview gave the Knights all they could handle in the first half before St. Thomas pulled away to a 60-45 victory at John Cabas Gymnasium.
St. Thomas (15-7) will face the winner of the Springfield-Lisbon game Friday night.
"The athletic ability of their players was a huge difference," Crestview coach Rick Gates said. "Their defensive pressure athletically was like nothing we've seen this year."
The Rebels struggled to find their shooting touch in the first half, managing just 13 points while shooting 4-of-26 (15 percent).
Crestview hung in the game by playing outstanding defense.
The Rebels trailed by only three points, 16-13, with 4:14 remaining in the half but failed to make a point the rest of the period.
The Knights finished the quarter on an 8-0 run to push their lead to 24-13 at halftime.
"At halftime we felt real good defensively with the exception of a few offensive rebounds that St. Thomas had," Gates said. "We just didn't find the basket at the end of that first half and that really hurt us.
"They have a nice group of athletes and its just hard to shake a guy open when they have so many guys that are capable of stopping you," Gates said.
Rotating 11 players, St. Thomas coach Dave Waseity said that enabled his team to keep the pressure on Crestview and their standout, Troy Duwe, who was held scoreless in the first half.
"Crestview played a great first half," Waseity said. "Number 22 [Duwe] is a great player and as long as they stayed close he would be a factor.
"We needed to get a lead to help take his shooting out of the game," Waseity added. "So that stretch late in the first half enabled us to get a more comfortable lead going into the second half."
Duwe did start to find his touch in the second half as he scored all 16 of his points in the final two periods to lead the Rebels.
But the Knights had two weapons of their own that also heated up in the third quarter and that enabled St. Thomas to open the lead to 18 points, 46-28, after three quarters.
Six-foot-6 freshman Ricky Jackson scored 11 of his game-high 17 points in the third quarter and guard Seve Balcarcel added seven of his 12 to get the Knights' offense on track.
The Knights continued to use their athletic ability to force the Rebels into turnovers and to control the rebounding.
Kyronne Jackson pulled down 13 rebounds and Jackson had 11 as the Knights outrebounded Crestview 42-28.
"We made a nice run," Gates said about the season. "To the seniors' credit, they decided to turn things around. Right down to the last buzzer tonight, this team gave everything it had."
Crestview's Joe Sapp scored 10 points and pulled down eight rebounds.