The Cardinal Ritter Lions are still a formidable boys basketball team. One superstar basketball player may not control a team's fate after all. In fact they couldn't have more star players, for a given game that is.
Current Notre Dame freshman star Cameron Biedscheid wowed crowds throughout the state of Missouri the last two seasons for the Cardinal Ritter Lions boys basketball team in St. Louis.With his dazzling moves and all-around play last season, the 6-foot-7 -inch Biedscheid averaged a prolific 31.7 points per game and was voted a prep All-American, while leading the Lions to a 21-6 mark and the Class 3 sectional championships before losing. His junior season he averaged 29.7 points per game as the team came within one point of making it to the state's elite Final Four by losing 80-79 to Elsberry Class 3 state quarterfinals.
Moving forward to this season, the Lions are 16-8 heading into their Class 3, District 5 semifinal against the Northwest Academy Hornets (17-7) on Wednesday night (7 p.m.) at Vashon High. But more noteworthy than their record is the fact that the Lions may be positioning themselves for a deeper postseason run than last season. After all, Cardinal Ritter won its first-round district playoff game in grand fashion by trouncing the Metro Panthers 97-64 with Dominic Nelson pouring in a game-high 24 points.
A 5-foot-11 junior, Nelson is one of several players whose role increased this season, amid the the departure of the dominant Beidscheid, who has key big wins for Notre Dame recently.
"It's been a pleasure and a privilege to play a bigger role this season," said Nelson "When Cameron left it was up to returning players like C. J. (Charles Jones) and myself to really step up."
To that end, Nelson is averaging 13.2 points per game and Charles Jones, a 6-3 senior, is averaging 14.7 points per game. Of course combined that's 27.9 points per game, which is still below Beidscheid's 31.7 average, but the Lions leading scorer is 6-3 junior Sean Clancy who's good for a 17.3 average. Essentially Ritter now has an array of different options at a given time. In the Metro rout for, example, yet another scorer emerged in 6-2 junior DeSavier Ikner who scored 17 points. Jahmourie Robinson has also had double-digit games.
Conversely, Ritter's opponent tomorrow night, the Northwest Academy Hornets have three players averaging double figures in Tyrell Valentine (18 points per game), Barrion Jones (15.9) and Kendall Gill (10.4). Gill, a sophomore center- forward, is also the club's leading rebounder with 9.8 per game. Still the Hornets are running into a team hitting its stride.
The Lions in-season improvement is best illustrated by their rebound from a mid-December swoon, when they lost four games in a row, including a 68-62 loss at O'Fallon Christian on Dec.13. The Lions would avenge that loss on Feb.1 with a 75-39 runaway triumph in a home-season finale.
"It felt great to get revenge," said Charles Jones, who had a game-high 21 points. "To beat them by almost 40, that's a blessing. We've gotten better since then. We play smarter. We cut out the silly turnovers and we executed our offense."
But even that home rout didn't completely satisfy veteran Lions coach Marvin Neals, who has led the program to three state titles, with the most recent being in 2010 when Ritter dismantled Hogan Prep High of Kansas City for the Missouri Class 3 state title.
"I'm never satisfied until I get another one of these state championships," said Neals.