Donavan Parker closed his eyes and jumped.
When they opened, he had prevented a huge dunk and momentum gain for Cape Girardeau Central right in front of their 100+ student section.
“It got the adrenaline pumping, and it got the crowd into it and just motivated me to play harder.” Parker continued, “I feed off the opposing crowd…it motivates my mentality.”
It wouldn’t be his only block of the game, but it was the one that resonated. The 6’6 senior finished the game with 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 9 blocks, a few of which kept Cape’s Kinyon Hodges from slamming home dunks in the Dragons’ 68-62 win of the Cape Girardeau Central Tigers.
Teammate and SLU-commit Yuri Collins spoke on Parker, “Donavan is good, he’s one of the best shot blockers I’ve played with in a long time. I can count on him because if a man gets past me I know he’s not scoring because Donavan is down there.”
St. Mary’s defensive skills were quickly tested early on, and Parker was the last line of defense.
“I just kept what I’ve been doing, keep playing hard, covering up for my teammates mistakes, block shots and rebounds,” said Parker.
Cape Central’s early pressure led them to a 9-point lead over the Dragons, and St. Mary’s couldn’t find their flow. Even with a 2-point lead entering the half, the atmosphere and momentum belonged to the Tigers.
Enter Noah Hamilton.
“It was do or die, win or go home,” said Noah.
The junior point guard knew the season was minutes away from being over and turned up the heat defensively. Much like Parker, Hamilton brought a defensive element that snuffed any chance of Cape running away with the game. Hamilton wreaked havoc on the Tigers guards, disrupting plays and causing 5 huge turnovers. He contributed 11 points offensively as well.
“With Noah, he takes some relief off me. When I need a bucket, I tell him to bring the ball up and he gets it to me,” senior Yuri Collins said on how Hamilton helps his game.
Collins exploded in the second half and ended the game with 31 points, 8 rebounds, and 10 assists. Collin’s ability to consistency find ways to score is what makes him such a key asset for St. Mary’s offense.
This Dragons win meant a lot to the senior, who saw his dreams of a state title taken away from him on that very same court last year. “We left with a bad feeling. We’ve been waiting on this since last year,” said Collins. “It was a big motivation especially for me. They feed off of it and gave me a strong performance. They stayed behind me the whole time.”
Despite pulling ahead by double digits twice in the second, mistakes by the Dragons allowed Cape to claw back both times and inch within a single point.
Team leader Collins wasn’t worried at all though, “That 1 point lead was nothing to us. It was easy. We just called a time out and got our heads back into the game.”
Coach Bryan Turner has preached defense the entire year. “We kept saying it had to be a whole team effort defensively… A lot of times if you looked at our scores early it was still a teaching process, and right now it’s the overall season coming to a head.”
For the first time in school history, St. Mary’s has made it to the Final Four, ending a 87 year drought. The Dragons will be making their state debut on March 15th against the Ladue Rams.