ST. CLAIR — Darren Pietrykowski didn't know what to expect entering his third season as coach of the St. Clair girls basketball team.
But two months and 12 games later, he knows one thing for certain — his Saints can hang with anyone.
"I'm excited about the rest of this year and the future," Pietrykowski said. "We're starting to build our confidence and know that we can play with anybody."
St. Clair, which is 7-5, has proven that. It gave a pair of MAC-Gold rivals all they could handle earlier this month.
The Saints narrowly lost to Marine City, 60-51, in overtime on Jan. 6. Then on Wednesday against Marysville, they erased a 15-point first-quarter deficit to pull within five entering the fourth. The Vikings ultimately ran away in the final period and won, 52-36.
Normally, two losses in conference play wouldn't bolster a team's confidence. But Marysville and Marine City are veteran-laden clubs that currently sit atop the MAC Gold. By comparison, only two players in the Saints' rotation are seniors.
"We've got a lot of young girls this year," St. Clair senior Skye Gottler said. "So we're just trying to figure it out and come together as one."
St. Clair has five sophomores, three juniors and three seniors on the roster. With an abundance of youth, the Saints have leaned on the leadership of Gottler and junior Erin Seros.
"Erin has been with me since she was a freshman," Pietrykowski said. "She's more mature than a junior though. She's one of our team leaders. When she goes, we go. Skye Gottler too, she just does so many good things on the court."
They each did their part in St. Clair's most recent outing, a 48-22 thrashing of Warren Fitzgerald at home on Friday. Seros finished with a team-high 13 points while Gottler scored 12 on four 3-pointers.
While the Saints outscored the Spartans 24-7 in the second half, their start to the game wasn't as crisp as they would've liked.
"We just start off slow," Seros said. "We always come out better in the second half."
"It's just (about) finding our groove and getting more mentally into the game," Gottler said. "It's definitely something we need to work on looking forward for the second games against Marine City and Marysville."
The Saints know they'll be the underdogs when they meet the Mariners and Vikings again. But they don't mind.
"I like it, because we always come out and show up," Seros said. "We've always pushed ourselves. Nobody thought we were even gonna come close to Marine City and we took them to overtime. Then Marysville, we almost had them in the third quarter and fell apart."
St. Clair is hoping that the rematches will be different. Regardless of what happens, though, the buzz surrounding the Saints will remain as they continue to climb.
"I don't think we're there yet," Pietrykowski said. "But we're inching closer and closer to building the program that we want. We've got a lot of girls coming and the excitement's building.
"We've got a tough week ahead of us (with) Roseville next and then Marine City ... we're excited, we're young, but we're getting better every game."
Contact Brenden Welper at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrendenWelper.
This article originally appeared on Port Huron Times Herald: As St. Clair girls basketball builds, so too does excitement