By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Prior to the Christmas break, Bolivar (10-0) boys basketball head coach Robby Hoegh secured his 200th career win.
Hoegh’s Liberators entered Thursday’s Blue Division opening round at the Blue and Gold tournament sporting a 9-0 record.
Needless to say, the Liberators — feeding off adrenaline — didn’t need any extra caffeine prior to their 9:30 p.m. tip against last year’s Blue Division champions, the Fightin’ Irish of Springfield Catholic.
The defense was stingy and swarmed the Catholic offense from the onset, as it forced 12 first-half turnovers and 17 for the game en route to the 65-53 final.
The offense scored at will, as it spread out the Irish defense: creating the necessary lanes for precision passing and timely shooting from Hunter Berry and company.
While Hoegh and his Liberators don’t hang their hat on the defensive end, on this night, the defensive performance ignited the offensive outburst.
Something in which Hoegh will take on any given night.
“That is what we do. We feed off of it,” Hoegh said. “It’s not just the turnovers but the constant pressure. Take them out of what they want to do and speed them up a bit.”
The opening quarter mirrored a prize fight, with both circling the wagons and feeling out one another, as the Liberators led 17-13.
The cylinder hit a new apex in the second, when Bolivar produced a 17-6 run: creating the intermission separation in which the Liberators were wanting, as they led 34-19.
“Good passers make good shooters,” Hoegh said. “On top of that, it is the stuff over the top that we are getting to Josh Bowes and Brodie Pollock. You have to have that in order to get the good looks we want. We aren’t wanting any old shot. We are trying to get one where we earn it together.”
Kyle Pock hit the 3-pointer on the Liberators’ first possession of the second half, and Pollock’s quick five points sent the Bolivar section into a frenzy, as the Irish had to defend all corners of the court.
“That is these guys’ spirit. They are attackers,” Hoegh said. “They just have a lot of courage.”
Pollock went down with a bruised tailbone, giving more opportunities for Bowes, and the defensive intensity on the glass was one aspect that caught Hoegh’s eyes.
Pollock’s status for Friday’s game is uncertain.
“We got defensive rebounds, and when we [do], we really want to push,” Hoegh said.
The transition game not only put the opposition on its heels throughout the tilt, but the fast run-and-gun style allowed for quick cuts to the baskets for Bolivar.
Bolivar, while undersized, used its speed and finesse to combat the height disadvantage, as Kyle Pock, Bowes, Berry and company sliced and diced their way to the rim.
But things became a bit hairy down the stretch, with fouls taking center stage as the Irish made one final push.
The Irish cut the deficit to nine points but couldn’t draw any closer.
Scoring for Bolivar: Berry (15), Pock (17), Pollock (9), Bowes (12), Hitchcock (3), Francisco (3), Rowell (3), Bushey (3).
Catholic was led in scoring by Zach Howell (16).
The Liberators have a quick turnaround as they meet Logan-Rogersville at 2 p.m. Friday in the Blue Division quarterfinals.