BELLARMINE-JEFFERSON HIGH — The Bellarmine-Jefferson High boys' basketball squad has a date with a division rival that will determine the Santa Fe League championship.
First things first, though. The Guards were at home Monday night as they welcomed another league opponent —Salesian.
It took a half to do the expected, but Bell-Jeff came on in the second half, dominated, and took care of business against the Mustangs in a 47-31 victory at home.
"They were sending two to three guys on Micah [Shirley], so we just made adjustments," said Guards Coach Julian Andrade, whose team faces the St. Genevieve tonight in the season finale for the outright conference title. "Other kids stepped up."
After a subpar first half for the first-place Guards, Andrade's adjustment to get Micah Shirley better looks worked wonders for Bell-Jeff's leading scorer, who tallied nine second-half points against the Salesian defense.
The Mustangs (5-17, 1-6 in league) held a 21-16 halftime lead, but collapsed in the second half, making just three field-goals in the final two quarters on 25 attempts. They didn't help their cause with the nine second-half turnovers either.
In essence, it was a tale of two halves for both teams, as the Guards (11-12, 6-1) trailed for almost the entire first half, then took advantage of St. Genevieve's second-half struggles and outscored the Mustangs, 31-10.
"We lost our confidence in the second half," Mustangs Coach David Martinez said. "We started missing open shots, and not taking care of the ball."
The momentum swing started immediately, with Bell-Jeff scoring the first 12 points of the third quarter and the defense causing the Mustangs to shoot one of 10 from the field. The Guards also helped force six Mustangs turnovers.
Bell-Jeff guard C.J. Reyes hit a three-pointer as time expired in the quarter that doubled the team's lead from a three-point advantage to six, ultimately proving to put the game away.
Salesian trailed by double-digits for all but the first minute of the final frame.
Shirley finished with 14 points, and fellow senior Mario Marquez added nine. It was the final regular-season home game for the two seniors.
Brandon White helped make sure the Guards ended their run with a victory, as he chipped in with 12 points.
Salesian's Andrew Martinez led his team with eight points.
Looking forward, the Guards easily defeated the Valiants Jan. 26, 85-58, at Bell-Jeff. This time around, the two teams will play at St. Genevieve, and needless to say the stakes will be much higher — two facts Coach Andrade is well aware of.
"It's a big game, and it's going to be tough," Andrade said. "They're going to have home support, so we need to go there and play well."