By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Five of the last seven Class 2 state championship games have involved a team from the Ozarks and if you’re looking for who that group could be in 2017-18, you should start in Pierce City.
The Eagles have quietly won district championships in three of the last five seasons and return three starters and 10 total lettermen from last year’s 22-8 group.
Each PC district title run has ended with a loss to a team that advanced to the Final Four. Matt Street is hoping to end that streak in his ninth season as head coach.
His roster won’t feature the depth of size that it did last year, but Street does bring back arguably the most imposing player in the conference, 6-foot-6 senior Hunter Tindell.
He’s Pierce City’s returning leader in scoring (14 PPG) and rebounding (6 RPG) while mostly coming off the bench last season.
“I expect Tindell to have a big season on defense and offense,” said Street. “He has the ability to really change the game on both ends of the floor.”
Classmate Donnell Kleiboeker, an all-state football player, plays much bigger than his 6-foot frame would indicate. He’s back after averaging 12 points and five rebounds last year.
Playing Kleiboeker as a 4-man allows Street to apply more pressure defensively and increase the tempo of games, part of the reason Pierce City scored 70 or more points five times in their final 10 games of the season.
The Eagles were a perfect 8-0 when scoring 70-plus last year.
“Our fans can expect the same style of basketball that we played last season,” said Street. “We will have a deep bench and will really look to push the pace on both ends of the floor.”
Seniors Hunter Hatfield and Gage Brown add to the depth and pressure the Eagles will put on opponents. Classmate Dallas Kleiboeker will also see time playing either forward spot and bringing a ton of athleticism.
Pierce City has no juniors, so the remainder of the depth will come in the form of sophomores, many of which played major minutes.
Point guard Aaron Garner is back, bringing with him a team-high five assists and a year of starting experience. Trey Sagehorn, a 6-foot wing, is in the same position and will likely see time at any spot on the floor.
A pair of 6-footer sophomores will again see minutes this year in Trenton Kluck and Colten O’Hara. Kluck will provide frontcourt depth and O’Hara will likely spell Garner at point guard while also finding minutes off the ball.
Street also expects fellow sophomores Jackson Kleiboeker and Dominick Smith to find minutes at the forward spots.
“Our sophomore group had a great summer,” said Street. “They continued to move forward and other key players in that class have stepped up and will play a much larger role this season.”
Pierce City will again prepare itself for a run in March with another loaded schedule.
Class 4 Cassville, Class 3 Seneca and Stockton, while also heading back to the Walnut Grove Holiday Tournament, will present a variety of challenges. That doesn’t include sharing the SRVC with fellow Class 2 district champion Lockwood and Class 1 Greenfield, who lost in the district championship to Class 1 state champ Walnut Grove.
The Eagles will play Greenfield and Lockwood consecutively on Jan. 30 and Feb. 2 in what will likely decide the SRVC title.
As they look to take back the SRVC and get over the hump in the playoffs, that’ll be the most pivotal stretch of a season that could have a historic ending.
“I believe that the league will be really challenging to win this season,” said Street. “I think that every team has improved from last season and going 9-0 in conference will be tough especially since we have only 3 conference games at home this season.
“I think that our guys will be really excited to get going this season. Playing like we did in the sectional game wasn’t who we were and I think our guys will be out to prove that this season.”
Pierce City will open the 2017-18 season at home vs. Marionville on Nov. 21.