By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
MARIONVILLE – Aaron Garner and the Pierce City Eagles spoiled Marionville’s Senior Night with a huge second-half comeback to win the inaugural Southwest Conference championship with a 57-54 victory Tuesday night.
Trailing the entire game, and by as many as 22 points, Pierce City took its first lead of the game with 1:24 remaining when Colten O’Hara found Garner open cross-court. Garner drained a 3-pointer to give the Eagles a 53-52 lead.
“It was pretty crazy,” Garner said. “After that shot, I felt like we pretty much sealed the game. We still had plenty of time left. But after that, we just had to hit our free throws and we’ve been doing a pretty good job of that lately.”
Garner finished the game by going 4-for-4 from the free-throw line as Pierce City improved to 18-7 overall, while finishing an undefeated (7-0) conference run.
“That was a big shot,” Pierce City coach Matt Street said. “Aaron’s done a good job of making those all year. That’s who we are; we share the ball well. Our guys are not selfish; they just want to win. And, that was a great find and a good open look.”
Pierce City scored the game’s first basket before Marionville (17-7, 6-1) rattled off 11 straight points for an 11-2 lead. The Comets continued their hot shooting to a 21-8 lead at the end of the first quarter, sparked by Gavin Stanton’s nine points.
The Comets maintained that momentum throughout the second quarter, racing to a 39-20 advantage going into halftime.
“I thought we came out really flat,” Pierce City coach Matt Street said. “Marionville did a really good job of coming out and kind of punching us in the mouth early. They defended really well.”
But, the Eagles went on a 6-0 run to open the second half and gradually chipped away at Marionville’s lead before cutting the Comets’ lead to less than double digits (41-32) with 1:18 to go in the third quarter.
“We made a few adjustments and the boys really brought the energy back,” Street said. “The second half was awesome. I told them I couldn’t be more proud, even if we end up losing that game somehow. To fight back says a lot about our boys.
“Marionville shot the lights out to start the game. They’re good shooters. We’ve seen them enough to know that. We talked about ‘we’ve got to get it within 10 when the fourth starts, to give us a shot.’ That was the one thing we asked them to do. The boys came out and picked it up on both ends, and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Pierce City outscored Marionville 16-5 in the third and cut the lead to eight points (44-36) heading into the fourth quarter. That is when the Eagles’ offense really caught fire, as they outscored the Comets 21-10, snapping Marionville’s seven-game winning streak.
“Definitely, one that got away,” Marionville coach Ted Young said of the game and conference title. “Give credit to (Pierce City). They took it to us in the second half. They just outworked us in the second half, plain and simple.
“For whatever reason, we did come out flat (in the second half). I think we tried to do a little too much one-on-one and didn’t share the ball like we did in the first half. We didn’t guard very well in the second half and didn’t rebound very well. We just didn’t do anything very well in the second half.”
After closing out the Spring River Valley Conference era with a league title, Pierce City is excited to open the inaugural Southwest Conference with a championship.
“Like we talked (in the locker room), we’re the first one; nobody can ever take that away from us,” Street said. “It’s nice to go out on top and start the new one on top. But, we also talked about how next week is big. We’ve got to get ready for next week and see if we can’t take that next step forward and keep this going.”
Pierce City closes out the regular season at Seneca on Friday before opening Class 2 District 12 play against Southwest (Washburn) on Feb. 19 at Webb City. The Eagles lost 55-51 to Purdy in the district final last year and has lost in a district final or sectional round the last four years.
“It’s pretty big,” Garner said of the conference title. “It’s big, but we still have districts ahead of us. Districts are what’s most important to us, to move on and, hopefully, get far and get to state.”
Marionville, which last won a league title in 2008 when it competed in the Mid-Lakes Conference, faces Greenfield in back-to-back games – the regular-season finale on Thursday, and in the Class 2 District 11 quarterfinals on Feb. 18 at home.
“We’ll see how tough they are, if they’re mentally tough enough and physically tough enough to come back,” Young said. “We’ll get back in the gym tomorrow and try to fix some stuff.”
Southwest Conference game
PIERCE CITY 57, MARIONVILLE 54
PIERCE CITY 8-12-16-21—57
PIERCE CITY (18-7, 7-0) – Jackson Kleiboeker 8, Aaron Garner 9, Trenton Kluck 16, Colten O’Hara 2, Kyle Renkoski 16, Tristan Cruz 6.
MARIONVILLE (17-7, 6-1) – Evan Dotson 10, Josh Goodman 9, Gavin Stanton 15, Laythen Utke 12, Dom Clevenger 8.
Marionville B 32, Pierce City B 15