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St. Thomas More's Ryder Kirsch takes the ball down the floor against the Rapid City Christian defense Friday during a Region 8A playoff game at Hart Ranch.

The season didn't start very well for the St. Thomas More boys' basketball team. After a 49-45 loss to Douglas Jan. 4, the Cavaliers were 2-6 and fighting to climb in the Region 8A standings.

In basketball, however, things don't always stay the same for very long.

STM advanced to the Round of 16 after a 56-28 win over Rapid City Christian in the Region 8A playoffs Friday night at Hart Ranch. The win sets up a date with Sioux Falls Christian (21-0) Tuesday in Chamberlain. The winner goes to the state tournament.

It was the first time the schools have played against each other since 1997.

"It's a good feeling, and I thought the guys played hard tonight," STM coach Dave Hollenbeck said. "In the first half we played well, and I thought we rebounded well, so I was happy about that."

The win improved the Cavaliers to 12-10 on the season after they took down Lead-Deadwood in the first round of the playoffs 76-29.

Even when the team was struggling, STM big man Ryder Kirsch said he didn't have any doubt that the Cavs could turn their fortunes around.

"Coming into the year we knew we would have a tough schedule, but I thought as the year went on we'd get better as a team and be fine in the long run," he said.

For Christian, the season ends with the Comets posting a 16-6 record. Coach Kyle Courtney said the season was a step forward for the program during its first season in Class A.

"We had a great start to the year, we had a lot of success," he said. "We went through a little struggle at the end of the season, but to crtedit the kids we stepped out of it."

Courtney also applauded the Comets for getting their first playoff win in Class A, a 69-57 win against Custer in the previous round.

Early on, the Cavs were able to speed up the Christian offense with a lot of pressure. STM put on a full court press that forced a lot of turnovers, and after the first quarter the Cavalier lead was 19-10.

That would be the most points Christian scored in a quarter, by halftime the STM lead was 38-16.

"We're trying to pick up the pace against some teams. We wanted to wear on them a little bit and get to their bench," Hollenbeck said. "It's not a big strategy change, other than against these guys, we wanted to speed them up."

The lead continued to grow, as the Comets scored only five points in the third and trailed 49-21 at the end of the quarter.

Both teams scored seven points apiece in the fourth.

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"We would have liked to competed a little better tonight, but I'm proud of the kids," Courtney said. "They're a good group of kids, and we've got all of them coming back so there should be some exciting things in store."

Kirsch led all scorers with 16 points, but STM also got 14 from Kale Landguth and 13 from Caden Casey. Zane Schlabach led Christian with 10.

"My teammates were passing the ball well, and when I was open they found me," Kirsch said. "Everyone on our team can score from anywhere on the court, so that opens up more opportunities for me."

Now, the Cavs will try to do what team has done this season, knock off Sioux Falls Christian. Hollenbeck called the Chargers the best team in the state, regardless of class.

"They are so athletic, and they're good," he said. "They can all shoot it, they're big, thick, athletic. They've got an ideal player at every position plus their bench players are incredible. Their bench players could start for most teams."

But for now, Hollenbeck said he wanted to enjoy the win against Rapid City Christian, because he remembers where the team was when it was 2-6 after the loss to Douglas.

"We've got a tough schedule, and I thought the guys grew as time went on," he said. "We've gotten a little better, we're not where we need to be but it is what it is, we've got to keep playing."

Contact Geoff Preston at

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.