By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Rogersville, Mo. — History nearly managed to repeat itself during the inaugural Big 8 Showdown title matchup.
Fortunately for Rogersville, Cade Blevins helped rewrite an alternate ending.
The junior erupted for 11 of his game-high 22 points during a thrilling fourth quarter rally, as the Wildcats pulled away late to seal a 78-68 victory over Nevada.
Rogersville led by as many as 19 points in the first half; however, the visiting Tigers stormed back in the second.
A pair of free throws from junior Dalton Gayman gave Nevada its first lead of the game with 28 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
It also gave the Rogersville crowd an eerie sense of deja vu.
24 hours earlier in the Big 8 girls championship — which featured the same two schools — the Lady Wildcats raced out to an early 16-point advantage in the contest, only to end up falling 54-37.
For Rogersville head coach John Schaefer, getting to the fourth quarter with a rested squad was vital, especially after a foul-plagued third quarter in which the fatigued Wildcats were outscored 23-7.
“When you get tired, you don’t have that same energy. I just wanted to get to the fourth quarter and get our guys back in. We’ve been in that situation all year — in a tight game — and they usually rise to the occasion.”
Schaefer’s fourth-quarter hopes were tested early.
Nevada picked right back up where it left off in the third, stretching its lead to a 57-53 advantage in the quarter’s opening minute.
The 6-foot-4 wing connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to help Rogersville recapture the lead at 59-57.
For Nevada head coach Shaun Gray, the fourth-quarter sequence from Blevins proved to be a back-breaker.
“In that situation, [Rogersville] kind of got hit in the mouth. After having a big lead, some kids would have been shaken. [Blevins] stepped up — ice water in his veins — knocked that down, and then he had another one just a couple minutes after that.”
After a steal moments later on the perimeter, Blevins finished with a thunderous dunk that brought the home crowd to its feet and seized momentum for the Wildcats.
The junior sharpshooter echoed his coach’s desire for a big fourth-quarter finish.
“We had a slump in the third quarter,” Blevins said. “I realized I had three fouls, and I needed to get back in the game and help my team as much as I could — and we started playing harder. I was able to get that steel and get a dunk, and I got open shots from my teammates because they were setting screens and helping me out.”
While Blevins fourth-quarter eruption helped seal the win, he wasn’t the only Wildcat to enjoy success from the perimeter.
Blevins (3) and teammates Kanon Gipson (3), Ryker Strong (3) and Josh Linehan (2) combined for 11 Rogersville 3-pointers in the contest.
Schaefer attributed his team’s success to a host of open looks caused by the defensive focus given to standout Luke Vandersnick. When opposing team’s design game plans to keep the 6-foot-5 senior from attacking the basket, opportunities for teammates usually follow.
“A lot of teams have done that,” Schaefer said. “They box-and-oned us a lot tonight and took [Vandersnick] out of his game, but that puts everybody on him. What we talk about is, ‘When that happens, It’s time for you guys to score the ball.’ When they get into rhythm, they can be dangerous.”
Strong’s 3-pointer with just under two minutes to play stretched Rogersville’s lead to 69-62 and turned the game into a free throw contest.
The Wildcats responded in the game’s final 90 seconds, connecting on 6-of-7 attempts.
Following Nevada’s monumental comeback, Coach Gray lamented the inability to match Rogersville’s final late-game intensity.
“Any time you do extend so much energy coming back, you’re going to have to dig down deep and find that extra gear,” Gray said. “We didn’t quite have that in the fourth quarter.”
Despite the loss, Gray feels his team will be well-prepared for the upcoming postseason challenges as a result.
“We’ve got to do better than we did tonight,” Gray said. “That being said, I’m proud of the fact that after we were hit in the mouth, we didn’t go crawl into the corner and hide. We battled back and gave ourselves a chance to win. This game is going to be a reason why we win some big games coming down the stretch.”
Matthew Thompson led the Tigers with 21 points.
The win marks a second-straight conference championship for the Wildcats and first in the realigned Big 8 Conference. The 14-team Big 8 format is unique to the Ozarks, as the only one to feature a true championship game at the end of the season.
Varsity Final: Rogersville – 78, Nevada – 68
Nevada 12 18 23 15 — 68
Rogersville 25 20 07 26 — 78
Nevada scoring: Matthew Thompson – 21, Logan Applegate – 18, Dalton Gayman – 12, Logan McNeley – 11, Lane McNeley – 6
Rogersville scoring: Cade Blevins – 22, Luke Vandersnick – 16, Josh Linehan – 15, Kanon Gipson – 14, Ryker Strong – 9, Addy Miller – 2
JV Final: Rogersville – 65, Nevada – 26