Blue Eye boys down Crane for district title

By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)

By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)

BLUE EYE — It wasn’t just the seemingly never-ending rain outside that had hundreds of Blue Eye fans in no rush to leave their home gym Friday. Fans of the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs lingered while making sure to savor every moment of their historical District sweep.

Following up the Blue Eye girls’ Class 2, District 11 title earlier in the night, Blue Eye’s boys held off Crane 55-51 to claim a Class 2, District 11 championship themselves.

It’s the first time ever both programs are District champs in the same season.

“Small-town pride,” forward Andrew Mitchell said while gazing and smiling at the large throng of fans gathered on the court 20-some minutes after the final buzzer. “This is history. It’s amazing to play and win for this community. Everyone supports us tremendously.”

“I’m so excited for our community and our kids,” coach Kyle Turner added. “We have great support and a great group of kids who care for each other. The boys and girls root for each other and are both having a great season.”

The Bulldogs (20-5) were also able to celebrate another rare sweep by taking both of its games this season from Crane (12-16)

“We thought and were hoping this could be our year,” Turner said. “But we knew it would be a long road. We’ve beat Crane twice now, but it had been since at least 2010 that we had beaten them at all. People talk about it being a great rivalry. But we hadn’t beaten them in eight years.”

Mitchell shook off a subpar night shooting to swish a 3-pointer with 1:50 remaining to give Blue Eye a 49-44 lead. The shot dictated plenty, forcing Crane to send the Bulldogs to the free-throw line to try to rally.

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“I was thinking about being confident in my shot,” Mitchell said. “When you keep missing, it takes a toll on your mental state. But you’ve got to keep your head up. I know good shooters don’t stop shooting. You’ve got to keep going and let it fly and know it will go down eventually.”

“Hopefully, we had a lot to do with that,” Crane coach Kevin Smith said, referring to Mitchell’s slump. “We tried to crowd him and run him off the line deeper and deeper. But I’m not surprised he made that shot. It was a great shot at the right time for them.”

“Andrew struggled shooting and had a rough night,” Turner said. “But he’s got confidence and I’ve got confidence in him. If they leave him open, he’s going to knock it down. He’s shot 40 percent from 3-point land for his entire career.”

Mitchell, who finished with 19 points, played the final six minutes with four fouls.

Blue Eye lost Brennan Fairchild with five fouls with five minutes remaining and obviously needed Mitchell to stay on the floor.

“I had to play more conservative and straight up,” Mitchell said. “I couldn’t make a stupid foul and had to be smart. It was nerve-wracking because you never know what the refs are going to call. But I wasn’t too worried on the contested shots I defended. I thought was playing it smart and safe.”

Crane’s comeback hopes received a tough blow when Ty Campbell injured his right hand upon landing on the floor after being fouled on his way to an attempted layup with the Pirates trailing 52-48 and :19 remaining.

Campbell, who had 10 points, couldn’t continue.

“He couldn’t move it and was upset that he couldn’t shoot, so I knew it was bad,” Smith said.

Colton Elder’s 18 points led Crane.

Blue Eye was in control early, with sophomore guard Nathan Garnett providing a spark in the form of 11 first-half points.

“He plays with such energy and effort,” Turner said. “You can’t teach that. We can’t do without his energy. He struggled with his shot (in Thursday’s semifinal win over Verona). But we knew he would come through for us when we needed him.”

Turner credited point guard Ryan Reagan for keeping Blue Eye’s turnovers to a minimum.

“Campbell is one of the best defenders in our conference,” Turner said. “The way Ryan handled the ball against him and set up our offense, we wouldn’t be where we are without him.”

Blue Eye moves on to Sectionals at Carthage and will meet Saturday’s Pierce City-Purdy winner.

CRANE (51) — Ty Campbell 10, Wyatt Vaught 4, Isaiah Smith 5, Braydon Cook 5, Colton Elder 18, Bryston Branstetter 4, Jacob Woodward 5.
BLUE EYE (55) — Ryan Reagan 3, Ethan Webb 2, Jacob Crouthamel 9, Nathan Garnett 11, Brennan Fairchild 11, Andrew Mitchell 19.

Crane 12 17 12 10 – 51
Blue Eye 21 14 7 13 – 55