Chris Miller was just taking care of business.
The first-year head coach of the St. Pius X boys basketball team had a little extra adrenaline flowing Friday night when the Lancers hosted Grandview in a Jefferson County Activities Association small-schools contest.
It was the first time Miller was facing the Eagles, the team he coached for six years, from the fall of 2013 through last spring. Adding to his mixed feelings is that he still teaches social studies at Grandview; Eagle junior Hunter Routh is in his world history class.
“It is a little awkward every now and then,” Miller said after St. Pius ran over, around and through their guests to a 70-29 victory. “Hopefully they understand, and I’ve told some of the kids before and we’ve talked about it – it’s not personal, it’s business. I still love those guys. They’ve got some great kids at Grandview.
“But when it comes to basketball, these (Lancers) are my guys.”
Miller’s crew wasted little time asserting its superiority over a Grandview squad that was missing a starter (David Creath) and is learning on the job under second-year head coach Taylor Hassell. Riley Naeger’s old-fashioned 3-point play at the end of the first quarter put St. Pius ahead 23-12 and the gap kept widening from there, to 39-16 at halftime and 62-25 after three quarters, triggering a running clock in the fourth quarter.
“That’s a tough squad to match up with,” Hassell said. “They’re loaded with talent; they’ve got big kids who all can play and he (Miller) does a good job with them.”
Four Lancers reached double figures in scoring, topped by Josh Ruble’s 17 points. The 6-3 senior swingman also grabbed seven rebounds. Senior Eli Boyer started hot, netting 10 of the Lancers’ first 13 points of the night, and finished with 16 points, three rebounds and three assists. Naeger and Nathan Ruble each contributed 11 points and Naeger also logged eight rebounds and four assists.
For Miller, the win was hardly a work of art, with 12 turnovers and a smattering of sloppy fouls, but it did lift his team’s record to 10-4 overall and 2-0 in the JCAA and extend its winning streak to three.
“There’s always things you want to take apart and (that) we need to work on. The kids had a couple early turnovers here and there,” Miller said. “But we battled through. We executed the game plan and we’re happy to come out with a win.
“There’s going to be times when we have turnovers because we’ve been playing a little faster. We just need to make sure we’re not giving up easy ones and we did give up a few easy ones (tonight). But credit to Coach Hassell and the Grandview boys, they worked hard and they exploited our mistakes.”
It was the fourth straight loss for the Eagles, who slipped to 4-11 overall and 0-1 in JCAA play.
The Eagles’ leading scorer, 6-2 senior Zac Perren, once again led with 10 points while fellow senior Ayden Bergner had five points. Senior J.T. Isaacson and sophomore Chase Wilson had four points apiece.
Hassell applauded his team’s effort against the taller Lancers and noted his team’s bad luck around the rim all night. If half of Grandview’s near-misses had gone in, it would have been a much closer game.
“We weren’t going to be able to execute anything if we weren’t the hardest-playing team out there,” he said. “We counted 20 shots inside of three feet that didn’t get blocked, but didn’t go in. We were there and we had the shots we wanted for a lot of the night; we’ve just got to get them through the hole – putting that round orange thing in the round orange thing.
“It’s being sharper offensively, trying to run stuff. When you’re the smaller team, you’ve got to execute quick before (the other team) knows what’s going on.”
St. Pius hosted Brentwood (5-3) on Wednesday, after the Leader deadline, and still has big games remaining against 6-6 Herculaneum (at home Friday) and on the road at high-scoring St. Vincent (11-2), Windsor (6-6) and Jefferson (7-7). Three of the Lancers’ four losses have been by two points or less.
“We’ve got Herculaneum coming up and we haven’t beaten them in the regular season in three years,” Miller said. “It’ll be a tough one; they’ll be amped up to play.
“At 10-4, we can’t complain too much. We’ve played some really good schools and it’s one of those things, that’s why we play them. That picked us up a couple extra losses but that will make us better down the stretch, and that’s what we want to be.”