By Matt Turer / Matt Turer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
REPUBLIC, Mo. – Republic hadn’t seen a district champion for boys basketball since 2014 when the program was still in Class 4.
This year’s group of seniors were still very much in middle school when that title was celebrated. Now, Broc Smith, Trent Rackley, Cole Buxton, Jaden Duvall and the rest of the Tigers have a trophy all their own.
Smith led all scorers with 22 points, Rackley added 12 and Drew McMillan scored 11 in Republic’s 63-59 win over the Willard Tigers in the Class 5 District 12 championship game on Friday inside Republic High School.
“This is what I wanted more than anything, and I got it,” Smith said. “The feeling is indescribable. I love my guys and I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else.”
Smith was locked in from the tip, scoring 13 in the first half and connecting on all six free throws he took in the fourth quarter, as well as a 9-for-9 mark from the stripe for the game.
“Broc Smith was the best player on the floor tonight,” Republic head coach Tim Brown said. “We’re glad he’s on our team.”
Three days after Willard head coach Jeremy Dresslaer predicted the championship would be a boring game, it was anything but. Both sides came out running to a 16-16 first quarter and a 32-29 Republic lead at the half.
“They made a lot of shots,” Brown said. “We let them play in transition, which isn’t good for us defensively. We like to grind, so we said let’s get as many stops as we can, and then come out and do it again.
“We changed to a triangle-and-two and they were discombobulated for a few possessions, and that gave us the separation we need. It’s not always pretty, but we pulled it out like we have all year.”
That switch in defensive gameplan coincided with Republic’s Tigers pushing their lead to 45-37 after three quarters. Republic led by as many as 10 late in the third quarter and again at 59-49 late in the fourth.
“It was a little more fast-paced than I thought it would be,” Dresslaer said. “We tried to put pressure on and keep them moving, unfortunately we just didn’t execute what we did in practice. Republic is the most disciplined team in the area, and they executed.”
Willard’s full-court press bothered Republic late and forced consecutive turnovers that turned that 59-49 lead into 59-54 with 1:05 left, but Smith’s ability to get to the free throw line and connect iced the game as the senior pounded his chest with a clenched fist at the final buzzer.
“We had the best team we’ve had in my four years here and we earned it,” Smith said. “We deserve it. Let’s celebrate tonight and then get right back out there [for sectionals].”
Republic’s students eventually stormed the court following the trophy presentation, celebrating with the team after watching both their boys and girls secure district championships on Friday. The girls also beat Willard, 43-39.
“Our attention to detail the last month has been awesome,” Brown said. “You run the table in this conference and then have to beat two more teams from your conference in this tournament. It’s unbelievable.”
Daniel Abreu led Willard with 19 points, followed by Maurice Grayer’s 18 and Riley Young’s 17.
Friday was the final game for Willard seniors Cole Oedewaldt, Kaden Cornell, Young, Dominic Hauck and Nathan Bushnell.
“I’m proud of my guys,” Dresslaer said. “I thought we did really well this season.”
Republic will travel to Kickapoo (21-4) for the state sectionals on March 6.
WHS |16|13|8|22| — |59|
RHS |16|16|13|18| — |63|
Willard- Daniel Abreu 19, Maurice Grayer 18, Riley Young 17, Caden Mowell 3, Dominic Hauck 2
Republic- Broc Smith 22, Trent Rackley 12, Drew McMillin 11, Jaden Duvall 6, Joe Rexroat 6, Race Looney 4, Tucker Thomas 2