By Amanda Perkins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
You don’t get a much better tournament championship game than Eminence versus Thayer.
The teams are each ranked sixth in the state in their respective classes and have already met twice on the season in thrilling match-ups, Eminence twice emerging victorious from overtime in each game.
“Thayer’s a great program and they have a chance to make the Final Four, so just getting to play them for the third time is scary going in,” said Eminence head coach Pete McBride.
But in their third battle, a fight for the Liberty Invitational title, the Redwings outscored the Bobcats outright, 60-44.
The teams each sacrificed perfection with their breakneck pace, but while Thayer proved adept at forcing turnovers – Eminence had 20 on the night – the Bobcats couldn’t connect on their shots. The Redwings could, and stepped up their own defense while also breaking the Bobcats’ press.
Six points separated the teams at the half, but Eminence managed to double their earlier lead by the close of the third, 39-27. The Redwings outscored their opponents in the fourth as well to seal the victory.
“They are such a tough matchup and so well-coached, and they are the premier program in the area, so it’s hard enough to beat them once in a season, much less three times,” said Coach McBride. “But I thought our kids really rose up defensively and dominated on that end for us, and that was the key. We weren’t perfect on offense, but our defense and rebounding were really good.”
“Everybody did their job and worked hard, starting with Ethan Drake running the point,” added McBride. “He got us going early; it starts with our point guard, and if he plays well we tend to play well, too.”
Drake had 20 points on the night.
Eminence opened their season with a loss to Advance, a familiar foe who defeated them in last year’s Elite Eight, but they’ve since won 15 games straight.
“It’s something to be proud of, but we’ve got to keep getting better,” said Coach McBride of the team’s winning streak. “It’s too early to be peaking, so we’ve got to get better this last month.”
They’ll start with their conference tourney this week as the top seed.
Thayer has only suffered three losses this year, each at the hands of Eminence.
Six players were named to the All-Tournament Team: Dylan Teague, Winona; Shalin Stout, Liberty; Jalen Andrews, Thayer; Ethan Drake, Eminence; Ayden Stone, Thayer; and MVP Trent McBride, Eminence.
Scoring for Thayer: Jalen Andrews, 11; Trevor Jenkins, 10; Ayden Stone, 8; Dagen Jones, 8; Braden Hufstedler, 4; and Hayden Couch, 3.
Scoring for Eminence: Ethan Drake, 20; Trent McBride, 16; Grant Dyer, 15; Wade Dyer, 5; Robert Keeling, 3; and Reece Parrish, 1.