By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
One bad quarter almost cost the Kickapoo Chiefs a chance to play for a district championship on their home floor.
Kickapoo held off a feisty and hot-shooting Branson team 64-56 to advance to Thursday’s Class 5 District 11 Tournament title game. Sophomore Anton Brookshire led the Chiefs with 25 points and made five 3-pointers.
Kickapoo (20-4 overall) will be playing for its fourth district title in five seasons on Thursday night. The Chiefs finished 14-13 overall last season and lost their district opener.
“(This season), I felt like we had potential and ability,” said second-year Chiefs coach Mitch McHenry. “As the year’s gone on, we’ve figured things out. You want to play your best ball this time of year and I think we’re doing that.”
The Chiefs host Nixa at 7:45 p.m. Thursday. Kickapoo won 63-61 at Nixa on Jan. 15.
Senior Tanner Oetting was a reserve on Kickapoo’s 2017 final team that featured current Division I players Jared Ridder (Missouri State) and Cam Davis (Navy).
As a senior, he’s hoping to lead the Chiefs on a similar postseason run.
“I got to experience some of that stuff with those guys,” said Oetting, who scored 12 against Branson. “To know that feeling – to win and go that far – I think is really going to help me as a leader. I’ll get my guys up and show them what it takes to keep winning and going on.”
In Tuesday night’s district semifinal contest, the Chiefs had to sweat it out against a Branson team that caught fire from deep.
The Pirates led 35-26 at halftime. They erupted in the second quarter, outscoring Kickapoo 22-9.
“They (Branson) have been playing their best ball of late and have been playing with confidence,” McHenry said. “Their style of play is very dangerous in the postseason because they play very free on offense. They shoot a lot of 3s and they made a bunch of shots tonight.”
Branson made eight of its 10 3-pointers in the first half. The teams combined for 15 3-pointers in the first half alone.
“First half, we were hitting (shots),” said Branson coach Mike Linehan. “Second half, we were cold as ice. Took a couple of rushed shots, maybe.
“We weren’t quite as patient. We were kind of wanting to make it happen too much rather than letting it happen.”
Kickapoo, which made 11 3-pointers, rallied back from a nine-point halftime deficit to lead 43-41 entering the fourth quarter. Brookshire’s fifth 3-pointer of the game put Kickapoo ahead 53-47 with four minutes left.
On consecutive possessions, the Chiefs got second-chance points that would slow a potential Branson comeback.
David Senn grabbed an offensive rebound and converted the putback, plus the foul, to give the Chiefs a 56-49 lead with three minutes remaining.
The Chiefs would grab two offensive rebounds on their next possession and get a basket from Brookshire to go up for good, 58-52.
“In a grind-it-out game where it’s back and forth, one possession can cost you the game,” Linehan said. “Two block outs that we missed… I’d like to have those back.”
Senior Trey Benard finished with a game-high 27 points for Branson.
“We let him create and attack in the second quarter,” McHenry said. “Second half, he still scored but I felt like we did a better job guarding him overall.”
Trailing 23-16 early in the second quarter, Branson closed the first half on a 19-3 run. Consecutive 3-pointers from Benard, Aden Arnette and Ethan Jones gave Branson its first lead of the game at 27-26.
“Our second quarter wasn’t great. We kind of folded a little bit,” Oetting said. “But we showed our maturity in the second half and came out with a win.”
Added McHenry: “We had one bad quarter. I didn’t feel like we competed in the second quarter very well. I thought we had a very good second half.”
Brookshire started the game on a personal 9-0 run as he made three straight 3-pointers.
Branson finishes 12-15 overall and graduates a five-player senior class. The Pirates won four of their final six games.
“About mid-season, we were having some frustrations,” Linehan said. “You know how it is – when you’re losing a couple of close games against teams where if you shoot or play a little better, we could’ve won. The guys were getting frustrated and instead of quitting and giving on it, they came together as a team and jelled.”
Kickapoo 64, Branson 56
Branson 13 22 6 15 – 56
Kickapoo 17 9 17 21 – 64
Branson (12-15 overall) – Trey Benard 27, Kyler Efrid 7, J.T. Hale 6, Aden Arnette 6, Ethan Jones 5, Dshawn Craigg 3, Brittan Pierce 2
Kickapoo (20-4 overall) – Anton Brookshire 25, Tanner Oetting 12, Micah McIntire 10, David Senn 8, Elijah Bridgers 6, Cross Elmquist 3