By Kary Booher
Nixa, MO – Jared Ridder was the first out the locker room door following the Kickapoo Chiefs’ lengthy, postgame team meeting. Given his straight face, you would have thought the dreaded L column had come to visit.
Not the case. Not on a Friday night when Ridder, who must have thought the rims had lids, finally found his stroke just in the nick of time of a drama-filled rivalry, as Class 5’s No. 6-ranked Kickapoo beat the No. 5-ranked Nixa Eagles 61-57.
Ridder scored 17 points, including seven in the fourth quarter – and none more important than back-to-back possessions with in the final 2:40. That’s when he bulled for a bucket in the paint and then swished a go-ahead 3-pointer, swinging Kickapoo into a 56-54 advantage.
From there, the Chiefs (12-4) hung on but barely. In essence, they won a game in which Nixa had most of the momentum for the final 2 ½ quarters and the Eagles center Christian Bundy scored a game-high 20 points,
Nixa had overcame an early, 26-13 deficit and eventually led 50-47 with 5:45 left in the fourth quarter on Braeden Combs’ putback. In fact, the Eagles pulled within 58-57 with 18.1 seconds left on Nathan Elmer’s hand-in-his face, 3-pointer.
But Ridder’s two buckets, of his seven fourth-quarter points, were a lifeline for the Chiefs on a night when Nixa came away empty on three, late-game possessions.
“My shot’s been off the last couple of games, so I’ve been trying to do the little things for my team,” said Ridder said, who made only three of his first 11 shots, including misses on five consecutive shots in the second quarter. “That’s what good shooters do – you’ve got to keep your confidence in your shot and hopefully you’ll knock one down.”
For both teams, it could be a preview of postseason sectional match-up, and you can bet Nixa (12-2) wants it.
“We’re just looking forward to playing in them in sectionals,” said Bundy, who scored eight points in the third quarter. “We really played our hardest out there, and coming out with a loss is pretty upsetting.”
To rally, the Eagles chucked a man-to-man defense early in favor of their bread-and-butter, 2-3 zone, and it fueled the comeback. A 17-8 run pulled Nixa within 30-34 at halftime, with the momentum clearly on its side after Jackson Auer got a steal against Cam Davis in a half-court set in the final seconds of the half and hit two free throws after being fouled.
But, down the stretch in the fourth, Nixa suffered a three notable, empty possessions.
With Nixa leading 52-51, a pass to Bundy in the corner flicked off his hands for a turnover. That was just before Ridder found his stroke. Right after his go-ahead 3, Nixa slowed to a half-court set and tried an alley-oop pass to Bundy from the top of the key. However, the ball hit the rim and Kickapoo grabbed the rebound.
Then, down 59-57 with 9.8 seconds left, Nixa got a huge break when Davis committed a foul that sent the Eagles to the free-throw line. But the first end of the one-and-one missed, and the Chiefs grabbed the rebound again.
“Two heavyweights throwing punches at each other,” was the way Nixa coach Jay Osborne described the night. “Our kids fought hard and played with passion. They (the Chiefs) just made more plays than us. It’s a shame somebody had to lose that game. We had our chances.”
Davis finished with 16 points for Kickapoo, including eight in a red-hot opening quarter. Travis Vokolek and Ridder combined for 15 rebounds, and Isaac Blakeslee finished with 10 points – including three free throws that enabled Kickapoo to maintain the lead in the final 48 seconds. Mitch Closser sank two free throws for the final margin.
“A lot of credit to (Nixa’s) kids. They played great,” Kickapoo coach Dick Rippee said. “We got up in the first half and that’s kind of been our theme. We relaxed a little bit, and we didn’t get our shots to go down. We lost our intensity. But (the Eagles) were the instigators there.”
Kickapoo 61, Nixa 57
Kickapoo 20 14 12 15 – 61
Nixa 13 17 17 10 – 57
Nixa: Christian Bundy 20, Braeden Combs 15, Nathan Elmer 10, Drew Canady 3, Seth Viebrock 4, Austin Bracker 5.
Kickapoo: Jared Ridder 17, Cam Davis 16, Donyae McCaskill 6, Travis Vokolek 6, Isaac Blakeslee 10, Corey Dye 2, Mitch Closser 4
JV: Nixa 51, Kickapoo 48