By Derek Shore (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Cassville, Mo – In the postseason, anything can happen and the Carl Junction High School boys basketball team got a little taste of what March Madness is all about on Saturday night.
The second-seeded Bulldogs pulled off the upset against top-seeded Webb City, preventing the Cardinals from taking their third straight Class 4 – District 10 title with a 60-50 win.
Not only that, Carl Junction avoided a third straight loss to their conference rival on their way to their first state berth since 2014.
“It was an unbelievable effort on both ends of the floor,” Carl Junction head coach Skip Brock said. “Our guys really were ready to play. We made enough plays and enough free throws in that second half to hold them off. We just got to credit our kids. They’ve come so far from where we were at the beginning.
“It’s a great reward. We have always talked about winning is a byproduct of effort and hard-work, so we just tried to focus on being the best we can be tonight. It worked out for us. Webb City’s an outstanding team and it was just a hard-fought ballgame. I’m just really proud of our team.”
The key outlier for the Bulldogs was pounding the ball inside to their two bigs – 6-foot-6 junior Trent Smith and 6-foot-7 senior Will Bebee, who combined for 44 of Carl Junction’s 60 points on the night.
Smith dropped a game-high 28 points while Bebee added 16 points.
“We handled their pressure much better than we did the first two times (we faced them),” Brock said. “We’ve been working on that. Throughout this season, we realized that was going to be a key to the end of the year. Our guys kept working and getting better, not just the guys that play but the guys they work against in practice gave us a great effort.
“We have continued even despite some of the losing streaks that we were on. The guys continued practicing hard, so we’re really excited to get a chance to move on and experience the state tournament.”
To start, the contest was notched up at eight-all when Bebee found room inside and laid it in, allowing Carl Junction to move ahead 10-8 following the first quarter of play.
Both teams swapped leads in the second quarter before a tie at 14 before the Bulldogs struck for a 8-0 run to end the first half with a 26-20 lead.
While Webb City showed signs of coming back, Carl Junction kept answering the bell, maintaining a double-digit lead for much of the second half keyed by scoring eight of the first nine points in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs entered the fourth and final quarter with a 45-36 advantage as the Cardinals could not shut down Carl Junction and Smith defensively down the stretch.
“We got the ball in the right places to the right people,” Brock said. “We never really panicked and we knew Webb would make a run. That is the way they are. It just seemed like every time they got a run – we ended up making a good play on the other end.”
The Bulldogs also received contributions from Teagan Armentrout, who poured in eight points while Aaron Ludders put up five and Nakoa Warren had three as well.
But it was Smith and Bebee’s performance which spoke volumes to their coach.
“What can you say about those two guys?,” Brock added. “Obviously, they are both very important. The cool thing is they’re great teammates. The other guys understand what they can do. Both of them rose to the occasion on both ends of the floor.”
For Webb City, Kyle Nichols and Grant Ellis led the way with 12 points each. Tanner Rogers had 10 points while Alex Pickett added nine for the Cardinals, who finished the year with a 14-13 overall record.
“I thought we had a good year,” Webb City head coach Jason Horn said. “We fought through some injuries early. We had some guys gain some experience and really step up into key roles for us. We had a great senior class. They did a good job leading us. I’m very appreciative of them.
“I think we have a good chance to do some good things down the road with the talent we have coming.”
After taking the district title, Carl Junction (11-15) advances to sectionals and will travel Nixa to face off against Logan-Rogersville on Tuesday.
“We are really fortunate we get to advance,” Brock said. “We are going to do our best moving forward to continue to get a little bit better and get ready for Rogersville on Tuesday night.”