MANSFIELD -- Caleb Stewart did a lot of watching and learning in his first three seasons of basketball at St. Peter's.
With now-graduated teammates like Jared Jakubick, Elijah Cobb and Tyson Kent, Stewart was in a great position to observe as the Spartans advanced to three straight Division IV regional finals.
Now a senior guard, Stewart knows it's time to step up, as he did Friday night with 22 points in a 54-32 Mid-Buckeye Conference win against Loudonville.
The win was the fourth in a row for the Spartans, now 9-5 overall and 6-1 in the league, remaining one game behind Lucas (10-3, 7-0) in the MBC standings. Loudonville fell to 7-7, 3-4.
HIGH SCORER: Stewart scored 10 points in the third quarter when the Spartans built a 22-13 halftime edge into a 34-18 lead going into the fourth period. Fellow senior Luke Henrich added 14 points in the win.
Stewart, as soft-spoken in a post-game interview as he is aggressive on the court, knows the time is now, especially with talented junior post Jonah Ramey missing a third straight game due to illness.
"I talked to Luke, with Jonah being out, about us stepping up and showing leadership. A lot of these guys haven't played varsity minutes ... we can show them we can do this without Jonah," Stewart said.
"Once we get Jonah back ... we're working and practicing as hard as we can every day," Stewart said. "We are taking on more of a leadership role."
St. Peter's coach Joe Jakubick was ebullient in his praise of Stewart.
"Caleb was tremendous tonight. (But) I was more impressed with him last week against (Kidron) Central Christian. They were all over him and he got other people shots, he rebounded and he played great defense. He had eight assists last week and that's not even counting the shots they missed. He probably could have had 10, 11 or 12 assists.
"His understanding of the game right now is at an all-time high. This is a kid two years ago, when he was playing JV, and he had moments like this even last year, if he made a mistake on the court ... the first mistake ... two, three and four were coming. He has really matured and it's just so nice to see," Jakubick said.
The veteran coach admits he is demanding of his players.
"Caleb wants to be coached. You can see the passion. He has been so good with it. He wasn't always that way two years ago," Jakubick said.
"We can be a good team. We're just not going to be the same team we were last year. We're not going to run up and down the court and put up 70 points. That's not our DNA thus year. But we can play solid defensively. We can take good opportunities when we get them. We can be patient on offense and get a good shot," Jakubick said.
Henrich, who had 26 points in the win against KCC last week, said he thinks the Spartans are becoming more of a team.
"I feel like we're getting more chemistry every game," he said. "I feel like I have to step up more as a leader, both me and Caleb being seniors without Jonah, us three have the most experience.
"But I feel a lot of other guys have stepped up, Eli (Gurski), Shawn (Perkins-Harris) and Josh Rose coming off the bench and now starting with Jonah out. They have all done really good jobs," Henrich said.
SLOW START: Loudonville began the game with a box-and-one defense aimed at Stewart and the Redbirds built a 9-4 lead midway through the first period. Jakubick even burned a timeout 90 seconds into the game to refocus his team.
The results were evident as St. Peter's outscored the visitors 18-4 the rest of the half after trailing by five.
"Loudonville did a really good job," Stewart said. "They switched some stuff up and showed us some stuff we haven't seen before. Coach calmed us down and kind of composed us. He told us how to break down the defense and told us we will be fine."
Jakubick said his team hadn't seen a box-and-one since opponents ran it last season against his son, Jared.
"We haven't seen it in a long time. We are a very balanced (scoring) team this year. It just took a few minutes for us to undertand what we need to do against it," Jakubick said.
Loudonville coach Kelly Seboe lamented missed opportunities to build on the early lead.
"It probably should have been a lot more than 9-4 because we missed several close opportunities," Seboe said. "We had some really poor basketball IQ mistakes that plagued us in the second quarter (when the Redbirds scored just four points).
"We get to the hoop and we can't score. Then we're not running our stuff very well. That compounds it. Then they have guys who can get to the rim like Stewart. He was finishing and we weren't finishing. Pretty simple. I think we shot some really bad shots. They are attacking the rim and we're not. We're taking (outside) shots and we're hoping they go in," Seboe said.
"As a unit, even without Jonah, they just work so well together. Those five dudes on the floor at any one time (work well together). It's impressive what Joe does. Our give guys don't look like they are in the same book or chapter or whatever page.
"We're way better than this. I don't understand it," Seboe said.
STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: In addition to the 36 points combined with Stewart and Henrich, the Spartans got six points from Gurski and six from Rose. Perkins-Harris added four.
Senior guard Joe Henley led Loudonville with 13 points. Senior guard Garret Fry added six.
UP NEXT: Both teams play again Saturday night. St. Peter's is at Northmor and Loudonville is at Black River.