By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
SPARTA — Cole Gilpin led Fair Grove on Saturday on his way to becoming the Sparta Tournament MVP and leading Fair Grove to its fourth straight championship at Sparta.
Gilpin broke loose for a game-high 25 points and the Eagles broke away from Forsyth for a 74-53 triumph in the tourney’s title tilt.
Gilpin scored 11 points in the fourth quarter alone.
All this from a sophomore who admittedly has been timid about asserting himself as a go-to guy for Fair Grove.
“I’ve been trying to find a new role by being somewhat of a leader on the team,” Gilpin said. “It’s been difficult to learn that role being so young. But it will definitely help in later years when myself and some of the other younger guys are older.”
Fair Grove (13-9) trailed Forsyth 49-45 a minute into the fourth quarter, before exploding for 22 unanswered points.
“We were able to get in transition,” Fair Grove coach Tim Brown said. “We got some stops and were able to get some run-outs. That’s what we’re really good at, running the floor and getting it in transition. We shared the ball and attacked. We hit guys when they were open.
“When it mattered, we put our foot on the gas and were able to blow the game open.”
The Eagles own eight straight wins over the Panthers over the last five years.
Fair Grove followed up hitting 10 3-pointers against Forsyth in the teams’ season-opener back in November by hitting 10 treys again this time around.
The Eagles nailed nine treys over the final three quarters. David Oplotnik made five 3s.
“We were over-dribbling in the first half,” Brown said. “We had some success getting to the rim. But I thought were turning down the shots we want to shoot, the wide-open 3s. We’ve got six guys who can make those. That’s a high-percentage shot for our team.”
“They caught fire, the ball bounced their way a few times and that was that,” Forsyth coach Josh Hart said. “When they’ve got a kid 6-foot-6 guy shooting 3s and we’ve got a 5-10 guy guarding him, you do your best to get a hand up on them. But even when we had a hand up on them, they still made them.”
Forsyth (16-4) was gunning for its third tournament championship this season, after previously winning its own tourney and claiming the Fair Grove Tournament title.
“We got tired tonight and put our heads down a little bit,” Hart said. “I told the guys it’s like a wheel came off here. We’re going to put it right back on and go to work, instead of letting the other ones fall off.”
Forsyth held the upper hand for most of the first half and led by as many as nine.
The open looks the Panthers enjoyed early on disappeared in the second half, as Fair Grove went to a box-and-one to try to contain Micaiah Rocha, who finished with 20 points.
“We liked how active our guys were and the shots we were making them take,” Brown said. “We knew we weren’t going to hold Rocha under 20. But we made the game hard for him. He makes the game easy for other people. I felt he wasn’t able to do that tonight because of the defense of Garrett Potter.”
Hart hopes the Panthers earn another chance at Fair Grove, possibly in a semifinal at Districts.
“It could work out that way,” he said. “I could see Fair Grove getting the two seen in our District and hopefully we’re right behind them at 3.”
Joining Gilpin, Oplotnik and Rocha on the All-Tournament Team were Fair Grove’s Kyle Stacey, Forsyth’s Anthony Stanford, Gainesville’s Garrett Morgan, Sparta’s Collin Teague, Fordland’s Hunter Burks, Bakersfield’s Hunter Bently, Lighthouse Christian’s Luke Davis and Riverview’s Kyle Evers.
Forsyth 16 12 15 10 – 53
Fair Grove 10 21 12 31 – 74
FORSYTH (53) — Dawson Deroo 2, Cameron Davis 4, Micaiah Rocha 20, Anthony Stanford 15, James Kohn 10, Trevor Turner 2.
FAIR GROVE (74) — Cole Gilpin 25, Kamron Stacey 9, Kyle Stacey 10, David Oplotnik 17, Brian Carroll 9, Garrett Potter 4.