St. Paul boys grind their way to Class S second round win

No. 8 St. Paul head coach Steve Phelps, his coaching staff and the bench look on during Thursday night’s Class S second round game.

The No. 8 St. Paul boys basketball team got off to a rough start against No. 9 Coginchaug Regional in their Class S second round game.
The Blue Devils jumped out to a 12-3 lead over the Falcons and had their large contingent of fans making a whole bunch of noise. St. Paul head coach Steve Phelps knew the game was going to be a grind, and he told his team as much.

Mike Palmieri knocks down a big 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.

The Falcons snatched the lead 15 seconds into the fourth quarter and never gave it up in a gritty 54-49 victory over the Blue Devils. St. Paul goes to Westbrook next Monday to play Class S’s top seed at 7 p.m. Mike Palmieri erupted for 25 points, but there were contributions throughout the lineup that pushed the home team to victory. Tyler Arbuckle had 10 points, Darek Wiecki put up nine points and nine rebounds, and Austin Jones tallied seven points and seven rebounds. Palmieri, Arbuckle, Wiecki and Bo Arndt had two steals apiece. Brian Considine helped out on the glass, and Donovan Symes took over the lead at the top of the defense to create one-man pressure.
The Falcons needed all hands on deck to knock off the Blue Devils.
“It was going to be a battle,” Phelps said of the Coginchaug matchup.
It certainly was a battle.
The Blue Devils jumped on the Falcons in the first quarter, thanks in big part to senior Brandon Johnson. Johnson scored 10 points in the opening eight minutes and Coginchaug jumped out to a 16-10 lead. The Falcons were burned in the final seconds by a pair of mistakes. Hunter Jameson grabbed an offensive rebound, scored and was fouled with 30.8 seconds left to put the Blue Devils up 14-10. On the last play of the quarter, Thomas Vallone stole a St. Paul inbound pass and found Jameson for a layup at the buzzer.

Austin Jones (2) and Darek Wiecki (31) celebrate Jones’ basket.
Jones hit a free throw to convert a three-point play.

St. Paul was able to forge a 22-22 second quarter tie on an Arbuckle 3-pointer, but the visitors connected on two straight layups for a 26-22 halftime lead. 
“We got to grind, we got to hang,” Phelps said he told his team. “The tide is going to turn.”
The Falcons pulled within a single point four times in the third quarter, including Palmieri’s shot in the lane just before the buzzer. 
For Palmieri, it was just the beginning. The junior captain scored 18 of his 25 points in the final quarter. Phelps talked about players throwing a team on their back, and Palmieri certainly did.
A big play came 15 seconds into the fourth quarter when Wiecki pulled down one of his nine rebounds and put in a layup for a 34-33 St. Paul lead.
“Mike’s offensive output was outstanding, but the other guys on the floor also had the presence of mind to [step up],” Phelps said.
Palmieri sank a 3 for a 37-33 lead and a Coginchaug timeout with 6:12 to play. Thirty-three seconds later, Vallone nailed a 3-pointer and was fouled. His four-point play tied the game at 37.
“Coginchaug is a well-coached team, they’re tournament-tested,” Phelps said.
The Blue Devils, who lost three starters from last year’s Class S runner-up, weren’t going away on their own. 
Palmieri made sure they did go away.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Palmieri put the Falcons up 43-37 with 4:31 to play and sent the home fans into pure bedlam.
Jameson’s 3-pointer pulled Coginchaug to 43-40, but five straight points from Palmieri increased the St. Paul lead to 48-40. Palmieri scored off a Wiecki assist on a fast break, then pulled off a terrific Eurostep through the lane, scored a layup and was fouled. Palmieri connected on the the free throw for the eight-point lead.

Tyler Arbuckle launches a 3-pointer in the first quarter.

Arbuckle pushed the lead back to eight points, 50-42, on a great left-hand drive and layup. Coginchaug kept on coming. Ryan Cross made a free throw, then hit a 3-pointer off an offensive rebound to cut his team’s deficit to 50-46 with 43 seconds to play.
Two free throws from Palmieri pushed the lead to 52-46, but Cross kept the pressure on the Falcons by making a 3-pointer with 4.6 seconds to play.
Palmieri, who was fouled before any inbound was attempted, sank both free throws to finally put away Coginchaug.
“I thought it was a great high school basketball game,” Phelps said.
St. Paul has worked hard, from the the players to the coaching staff to the head coach. There’s scouting to be done, gameplans to be made and executed. For Phelps, there’s the joy of knowing he has another 96 hours with his team.
“There is a great deal of gratification and satisfaction … just in the accomplishments of our kids,” Phelps said.