By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Cheer them. Boo them.
Oak Hill Academy doesn’t mind either way.
The Warriors are here to win and compete for a championship.
And they’re on the verge of winning another.
Four in four trips.
Oak Hill defeated Vashon 56-51 in the Bass Pro Tournament of Champions semifinals Friday night at JQH Arena. Cam Thomas, who is contending for tournament MVP, led the Warriors with 20 points.
The victory puts Oak Hill into Saturday night’s title game. The Warriors face the winner of Booker T. Washington/Paul VI at 9.
“We’ve never lost out here, so I don’t know if the fans will root for us or against us,” said Warriors coach Steve Smith. “It should be a good game.”
Oak Hill will be playing for its fourth Tournament of Champions title in four appearances.
The Warriors, who are now 11-0 all-time in the event, won the tournament championship in 2015, 2016 and 2018.
Villain? Hero? It doesn’t matter to Oak Hill’s players.
“I honestly don’t care,” Thomas said. “I’m out there to play. You root for us, you root for us. You root against us, you root against us. We’re still going to play our game and try to get a win.”
Oak Hill (25-1 overall) never trailed against Vashon in a matchup of nationally ranked teams. The Wolverines made repeated runs at Oak Hill throughout the second half, thanks in part to a 26-7 advantage in second-chance points.
The Wolverines shot 21-for-66 from the field overall, including 5-for-20 from 3, but grabbed 24 offensive rebounds. Oak Hill, by comparison, shot 20-for-41 but made nine more free throws.
“We were lucky,” Smith said. “(Vashon had) a lot of second-chance opportunities. I thought we did a good job defensively and on their initial shots.”
Oak Hill lost a big rebounding presence in the second half in 6’8” senior big man Jamari Sibley. He broke his forearm in the third quarter. Sibley had four points and six rebounds in 16 minutes before suffering the injury.
“He usually plays about 20 minutes for us,” Smith said. “Tonight, if he hadn’t gotten hurt, he might have played the whole game. He could’ve got us 10 rebounds. We missed him.”
Vashon (9-4 overall) cut Oak Hill’s lead to just three on four occasions in the fourth quarter. Cam’Ron Fletcher, who scored 28 and grabbed 13 rebounds on 12-for-28 shooting, hit a 3-pointer with 1:54 left that brought Vashon within 53-50.
Vashon made it competitive after a sluggish start. The Wolverines scored just two points over the opening seven minutes and missed 15 of their first 18 field goal attempts.
“I think the slow start two-fold: We were a little bit overzealous to a degree. We were excited to play, and I think that led to bad offense early,” said Vashon coach Tony Irons. “Sometimes against a team like that, long shots and bad shots are like turnovers.
“They took us out of certain things we wanted to do, and I think we got rattled. They got easy buckets, and it became an uphill battle.”
Oak Hill led 20-8 with 5:30 left in the first half and carried an eight-point lead into halftime.
“We weren’t playing as a team,” Fletcher said. “Not playing to the best of our potential. Coming out of halftime, we knew what we had to do.”
Oak Hill 56, Vashon 51
Oak Hill 11 17 16 12 — 56
Vashon 5 15 17 14 — 51
Oak Hill (25-1 overall) – Cam Thomas 20, Darius Maddox 13, Emmanuel Okpomo 8, K.K. Robinson 7, Jamari Sibley 4, Jalen Ricks 3, Bradley Ezewiro 1
Vashon (9-4 overall) – Cam’Ron Fletcher 28, Kobe Clark 8, Phillip Russell 6, Nicholas Kern 6, Sergio McClain 3