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PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Explorers hit tourney trifecta

posted Jan 23 2017 6:27 AM


Separated by more than 4,000 miles, Edwardsville’s AJ Epenesa and Mark Smith both earned Most Valuable Player trophies on Saturday.

Epenesa’s honor came from his defensive performance at the Polynesian Bowl all-star football game in Hawaii. Smith added to the riches of his senior basketball season with MVP accolades after leading the Tigers to a 50-46 victory over the Centralia Orphans in the championship game of the Salem Tourney at B.E. Gum Gym.

Marquette Catholic joined Edwardsville with a season sweep of its three tournaments. While the Tigers took titles at Highland, Collinsville and Salem, the Explorers added the Sparta Tourney championship by beating the Murphysboro Red Devils 56-52 Saturday night in Sparta.

It was Marquette’s first appearance at Sparta. The Explorers made the nearly 150-mile round trip four times in five days and the travel yielded four victories to push their record to 19-2 and extend their winning streak to 11 in a row.

Marquette routed Freeburg (49-29), Red Bud (51-28) and Sparta (53-17) to win its pool before handing Murphy just its third defeat.

“I was happy with the way we defended,” said Marquette coach Steve Medford, whose team won tourneys at Freeburg and Metro East Lutheran the previous two months. “It was a good tournament for us and it gives us some confidence going forward. The kids are getting better, they’re getting better defensively and that’s a big key for us.”

Sammy Green and Reagan Snider earned all-tournament recognition for the Explorers. Green was MVP at the Freeburg Tourney after Christmas, when Snider was lost to an ankle injury. Snider’s return is a welcome addition for a Marquette team prepping for Class 2A postseason play.

“He’s a capable kid and he makes shots for us,” Medford said of Snider. “But what he really does well for us is defend. He’s a tough-nosed, gritty kid and we’re glad to have him back.”

Edwardsville also gets a boost with the return this week of Epenesa, a 6-foot-5 all-stater and 1,000-points career scorer who missed five January games on a football All-America tour that took the Iowa recruit to San Antonio and Hawaii.

Edwardsville went 5-0 with Epenesa on leave and returns to Southwestern Conference play this week at Alton on Tuesday and home against Belleville West on Friday. Edwardsville’s lone loss came against West.

The Tigers are 16-1 and winners of 12 in a row after defeating the Orphans. Smith, also the MVP at the Collinsville Tournament, scored 27 points against Centralia. Oliver Stephen scored 12 points and was a first-team all-tourney pick, while the Tigers’ Caleb Strohmeier was a second-team all-tourney choice.

Centralia, which is 13-5, trailed 29-17 at the half before closing within 41-37 after three quarters. Dawson Berry led the Orphans with 14 points, while teammates Jamie Long had 12 and Javon Williams had 11.


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