By Josh Hall
The Fair Grove boys basketball team experienced some heartache after last season’s quarterfinal loss.
But the Eagles used that defeat as motivation, and now they are back where they want to be.
“It’s special to be here again,” coach Tim Brown said after Fair Grove claimed a 63-56 win against Lamar in a Class 3 sectional game on Wednesday at Willard High School.
The Eagles overcame a nine-point deficit late in third quarter before holding off the Tigers, ranked 10th in Class 3 by the Missouri High School Basketball Coaches Association.
Fair Grove will now get a rematch against Mountain Grove, who ended the Eagles’ season last year, in a quarterfinal game at 5 p.m. Saturday at Drury University. The Panthers (27-2; No. 4 in MBCA poll) captured a 72-68 victory against Southern Boone (25-4; No. 2 in MBCA poll) in sectional play on Wednesday.
“We fought so hard to even get to this point – to even play in a sectional,” senior guard Garrett Kesterson said. “We knew we had the heart and passion, we just had to come out and play hard. We tried to forget about the nine-point (deficit) and just keep playing.”
Kesterson poured in a game-high 31 points, while fellow senior Evan Fullerton added 15 to lead Fair Grove, which was coming off its second-consecutive district title.
“You talk about the big shots that those two made, and then the defensive, gritty plays that Dalton Cloyd made,” Brown said. “Those three seniors set the tone for us and they have all year.”
Lamar (22-5) used a 13-4 run to take a 43-34 lead with 3:07 to play in the third quarter, before Kesterson hit back-to-back 3-pointers and sank a fade-away jumper with four seconds left in the quarter to tie the game at 43 entering the fourth.
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The Tigers held a 55-54 lead with 3:01 to play when Fullerton came on. The 6-foot-7 forward scored seven points in the final three minutes to close the game out for the Eagles (24-5).
“I just didn’t want this to be my last game with this team,” Fullerton said. “I love my team, and I just wanted to be a leader and do everything I could to make sure that we won.”
Lamar senior Trey Mooney scored 13 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to lead four Tiger seniors in double figures. Samuel Timmons finished with 12 points, while Luke Hardman and Ian Moore both tallied 10.
Lamar coach Tyler Ryerson hopes this season’s success on the basketball floor is just the beginning for a school known for its dominance on the football field.
“It says a lot about the kids in that locker room – especially our five seniors, who worked their tails off all year,” Ryerson said. “I told (the seniors) in the locker room, when they come back in five or 10 years, they’ll always be a part of the class that started the culture.”
The Tigers, who were 23-of-58 from the floor and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line, held an 18-12 lead after the first quarter and a 28-26 edge at the break.
Fair Grove was 20-of-43 from the field, 15-of-20 from the line and hit eight 3-pointers in the contest.
“They made some big shots and we didn’t,” Ryerson said. “That’s the difference in the game.”
Fair Grove 63, Lamar 56
Lamar 18 10 15 13 — 56
Fair Grove 12 14 17 10 — 63
Lamar — Luke Hardman 10, Samuel Timmons 12, Trey Mooney 13, Matthew Whyman 4, Anthony Wilkerson 4, Ian Moore 10, Garrett Morey 3
Fair Grove — Cole Gilpin 4, Dalton Cloyd 2, Garrett Kesterson 31, Steven Huskey 4, Evan Fullerton 15, Garret Potter 2, David Oplotnik 5