By Denise Tucker
Halfway, Mo. – With the game tied at 11 after the first quarter Wednesday night, the Wheatland Mules needed a spark.
And that spark came from Tristan Shaddox.
The junior guard/forward scored 10 of his 16 points in the second quarter, including seven straight, as the Mules outscored Macks Creek 20-9 on their way to a 66-39 Class 1 District 7 semifinal victory.
“It was huge. It really got us going,” Wheatland coach Brian Pearson said. “He is very hard to handle when he gets going. He rebounds the ball well and finishes extremely well.”
But Shaddox had some help. Senior guard Zac Sutt, who eclipsed the 2,000-point mark in the Mules’ 79-51 quarterfinal win over Climax Springs on Monday, had 17 points at halftime on his way to a game-high 27 on Wednesday.
“Those guys have been scoring a lot for us lately,” Pearson said. “And, we’ve been getting scoring from other places, but Zac is the same old Zac. When we need a big bucket, he gets it done, and when he’s not having a good shooting night, he still finds ways to score and help us out.”
The 20-9 second-quarter run and 20-5 run in the third, helped put some distance in between Wheatland and Macks Creek.
“I felt like our defense, after the first quarter, we kind of challenged ourselves a little bit; that we knew we could guard a little better,” Pearson said. “They didn’t shoot the ball extremely well, and we were fortunate. But we blocked out real well and didn’t allow a lot of second-chance shots in the second and third quarter, and I felt like that got us on a run.
“We started getting the ball inside more, as well, and it opened some stuff up outside for our guards, too.”
Macks Creek fought back in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late.
“We struggle sometimes offensively, and when we struggle offensively, it’s hard for us to play defense,” Macks Creek coach Matt McCarthy said. “If we’re not playing defense, we have no energy and it’s hard for us to execute.
“But it was good to see that fourth quarter, for us to battle. You always want to see that down the stretch, especially when you have some seniors who are playing for the last time. That’s a great way to go out.”
Seniors Cameron Charlton, who was held to just three points on Wednesday night, and Austin Zollman, who recently passed the 1,000-point mark, led the Pirates with 17 points.
But it will be Wheatland, which improved to 21-6, that will advance to the championship game – a far cry from its 11-16 record of a year ago.
“Our kids have stepped up and bought into a more defensive-minded game,” Pearson said. “Last year, we challenged ourselves; we were giving up 66 points a game and this year, it’s right at 50. We just made it an emphasis all summer long on getting better defensively and really owning the boards. That’s really helped us a lot. Everybody is starting to fit into their roles, and know what they do, and that’s huge for us.
So, with that defensive mind-set, how will the Mules stop Hermitage’s high-scoring Dillon Meyer?
“I don’t know if you can stop a kid like Meyer,” Pearson said. “He finishes well, he’s got good touch. You just try to contain him and limit his shots; make him take tough shots and keep him off the glass.”
And for the second time this season, the Mules will face a familiar foe in top-seeded Hermitage – this time for the district title.
“We’re four miles away from each other, our kids know their kids, and it’s going to be a battle,” Pearson said. “We’re hungry, and we’re excited to have the opportunity to play them for a district championship, and I know they are, too.”
NO. 2 WHEATLAND 66, NO. 3 MACKS CREEK 39
Class 1 District 7 semifinal
MACKS CREEK – 11-9-5-14—39
WHEATLAND – 11-20-20-15—66
MACKS CREEK (13-14) – Austin Zollman 17, Gage Mashburn 6, Justin Register 6, Braden Bowman 4, Cameron Charlton 3, Cole Register 3.
WHEATLAND (21-6) – Zac Sutt 27, Tristan Shaddox 16, Hunter Jones 8, Bailey Jones 7, Devin Koenig 4, Mitch Bigham 4.
Up next: (Championship) No. 1 Hermitage vs. No. 2 Wheatland