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Saint Thomas More pulls away from Lakeside Lutheran to win D3 crown

03/16/2024, 6:00pm CDT
By Mark Miller

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A five-minute stretch in the second half made all the difference for Saint Thomas More Saturday afternoon at the WIAA State Tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison.

After sophomore Wes Rahn (6-7) hammered home a dunk off a turnover to give Lakeside Lutheran a 45-41 lead over Saint Thomas More with 9:46 left in the contest, the Cavaliers went on a state-title clinching 18-3 run that culminated in an inside basket by Sekou Konneh off a nice feed from Amari McCottry.

When the dust had settled, Saint Thomas More had a commanding 59-48 lead, an advantage that wouldn't go below nine points the rest of the way. Eventually, the final horn sounded and the Saint Thomas More players celebrated a 65-54 victory.

The Cavaliers end the campaign with a 29-1 record -- their loss came at the hands of unbeaten Wisconsin Lutheran -- and the school's first WIAA state title after winning the WISAA Class A championship in 1988. 

Konneh had 20 points and 14 rebounds while McCottry ended with 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Iowa baseball recruit Kyle Alivo also came up big for Saint Thomas More with 19 points.

Although Lakeside Lutheran, which ends the year with a 27-3 record, had just eight turnovers, Saint Thomas More's lock-down man defense during their decisive run proved to be the difference. The Warriors may not have been coughing the ball up much, but they didn't get clean looks at the basket, either.

"We got after it with ball pressure," Saint Thomas More coach Tony Mane said. "Our offense and athleticism get a lot of attention, but we can defend. We constantly preach defense, ball pressure and rebounding."

Saint Thomas More, which trailed 32-29 at intermission, posted a 35-26 edge on the glass and outscored Lakeside Lutheran 48-38 in the paint.

That was to be expected to a degree since Konneh (6-9) and McCottry (6-5) are dominant players. 

What maybe wasn't as expected was the 19 points and four rebounds contributed by Alivo. 

"You can take away just so many things," Lakeside Lutheran coach Todd Jahns said. "We wanted to protect the rim so we played Wes (Rahn) on Sekou and then had Alex (Reinke) guard McCottry. You have to give credit to the other kids. Those other three kids are viable players as well."

Alivo failed to score in Saint Thomas More's state-semifinal win over Prescott, but he knocked down three triples and went eight-of-14 from the field against the Warriors.

"Everyone has off days," Alivo said. "My teammates put me in position for success today and I'm just grateful for it."

In addition to Alivo's point production, sophomore Omar Fofana came off the bench to score nine points for the Cavaliers.

Rahn (6-7), one of the more promising class of 2026 big men in the state, finished with 13 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and three blocked shots. 

Junior point guard Kaycee Guzman also played very well for the Warriors as he finished with 16 points, two assists and two steals. Reinke added 13 and senior Kooper Mlsna had 10. 

With Rahn and Guzman providing a solid core, Lakeside Lutheran figures to be a tough out again next season.

"I'm pretty confidence for next year," Guzman said. "We lose five seniors who are going to be missed, but Wes and I and our other returning players will be putting the work in to be good again next year."

Mane, a former standout player at Saint Thomas More and UW-La Crosse, said winning a state title at his alma mater was nothing but pure joy.

"I'm very excited for our school community," Mane said. "We are a smaller school on the southside of Milwaukee that gets overshadowed at times by some bigger schools in our area. But our alumni and student body are very loyal and traveled with us to see this game and our 16 young men accomplish this dream."

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