By Matt Turer // @MattTurer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
WALNUT GROVE, Mo. — The Walnut Grove Holiday Classic hasn’t been friendly to the Billings Wildcats.
In five tournament appearances heading into 2018, Billings had never finished better than fifth. That all ended Friday night.
Colton Plowman scored 18 points, Tyler Essick added 16 and Kyler Tennis put in 12 in a 64-47 victory for Billings over top-seed Fordland, putting the 4-seed Wildcats one win away from the tournament title.
Billings will face defending tournament champion and this year’s 2-seed Forsyth on Saturday night for the title after the Panthers beat 3-seed Verona on Friday.
“We played unselfishly tonight and made the extra pass,” Billings head coach Kendall Tilley said.
“We’re gonna continue to play our zone and move the ball on offense and do our thing [Saturday], and if we have a good night we should win.”
After hitting 13 3s in their 76-62 quarterfinal win over host Walnut Grove, Fordland limited the Wildcats (8-4) to just one 3-pointer in the first half and four for the game. Only two Wildcats, Plowman and Bobby Brown, connected from deep.
“We realized in the first half they were trying to take away our three-pointers, so we tried to get to the elbows and knew we’d have guys open on the blocks,” Tilley said.
That adjustment took form in the second half.
Fordland (9-3) led 10-9 after the first quarter and extended that lead to 30-26 at the half, but Billings closed that gap quickly in the third by opening the quarter with a 3-pointer and taking a 31-30 lead just 1:40 into the second half.
Billings grabbed the lead for good on a Hayden Fender basket that was part of a key 8-0 run that flipped a 34-33 deficit into a 41-34 lead.
The Wildcats pushed that lead to a game-high 19 points late in the fourth quarter. Plowman hit seven free throws in the fourth quarter to help seal the upset.
The win was the fifth straight for Billings after a 3-4 start to the season. The Wildcats were without Essick for parts of this season. He was a big factor Friday night on both ends.
“Our bigs had three points total the other night, so it was good to see those guys step up and make some adjustments,” Tilley said.
Hunter Burks led all scorers for Fordland with 21 points and Jake Farnsworth reached double digits with 10.
Fordland will face Verona in Saturday’s third-place game.
BHS // 9 – 17 – 20 – 18 || 64
FHS // 10 – 20 – 10 – 7 || 47
Billings- Colton Plowman 18, Tyler Essick 16, Kyler Tennis 12, Bobby Brown 5, Grant Groves 5, Braden Ray 4, Hayden Fender 4
Fordland- Hunter Burks 21, Jake Farnsworth 10, Joe Hart 4, Logan Fuchs 4, Brett Hyder 3, Skyler Jacobson 3