COLUMBIA — For never having done this before, Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School sure seems to know what it's doing.
On Tuesday evening, the fans, believe it or not, actually stood up and cheered when the cheerleaders told them to stand up and cheer. The crowd dutifully traded off "TOL ..."s and "... TON"s in the style of seemingly every six-lettered institution this side of the Mississippi. And, above all, the Trailblazers won.
In the school's first-ever varsity boys basketball game, Tolton defeated Prairie Home 60-51.
"It's nice," sophomore forward Spencer Hockman said. "It's kind of a historic moment. It's something we can be proud of."
Guard Brennan Church christened the nets with a 3-pointer on the game's opening possession. The Trailblazers, however, would only score five more points in the quarter before taking a one-point lead into the half.
Panthers sophomore Sam Distler put up 14 points in the first half and seemed to generally have his way when driving to the hoop.
"We weren't really ready for what he was able to do against us," said coach Tyler Clark, who is in his first season at Tolton. "We were keying in on 23 (Trever Huth) and 12 (Rayce Kendrick), to be honest with you, and we did a good a job against them. It was No. 20 that really had a nice game for them and did some things that gave us trouble."
But it was Hockman who hogged the spotlight in the second half, putting up all of his 18 points in the final two quarters. Hockman, at 6 feet 4 inches, and sophomore Josh Boyer, at 6-6, made their size count and accounted for half of the team's points.
"We always wanna give them touches," sophomore Cameron Bagley said. "Because we know we've got an advantage having two over-6-4 guys on our team."
Clark echoed the remarks.
"Thing is, people key in on Josh and then Spencer can score," he said. "Just like a quarterback would give credit to the offensive line, I'm sure Spencer would give credit to Josh, too, and the guards, for opening things up."
In addition to being a high school basketball coach, Clark might also be a psychic.
Minutes later, Hockman added: "Second half, what was working was Josh was dumping it off to me when he was getting double teamed in high-low looks. And what also was good was when the guards were slashing to the paint, and then they get teamed and dish it off."
One of those guards, Church, racked up two early fouls, but came through when it counted. He put Tolton up by nine points with 4:40 remaining in the fourth quarter when he sank a long 2-pointer and followed it up with a pristine pick-and-roll pass to Hockman under the rim. The Class 1, District 9 Panthers were never able to mount a charge after the sequence.
"(Church) is a young player like the rest of us," Clark said. "Of the eight in the rotation, seven are sophomores. He does a good job of seeing the floor, and he's the one in-bounding the ball for us and making a lot of decisions."
The evening wasn't entirely spotless for Tolton, however.
The PA announcer insisted on signaling each made free throw with the word "swish," even if the ball had audibly clanked its way into the rim. Maybe he would have had a chance to work out the kinks if the Trailblazers hadn't missed 12 of their 22 free throws. Tolton also failed to convert on eight layups in the first half.
"It wasn't a pretty win," Clark said. "But I'll take an ugly win any day."
Tolton got a prettier win earlier in the evening when the girls basketball team defeated Prairie Home 58-37 in the first half of the doubleheader.
The boys take on Pilot Grove at home Friday. Until then, they can relish in never having lost a varsity game as a program.
"It feels real good," Bagley said. "It's a real good feeling to get the win with these kind of guys behind you."