By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Mountain Grove, Mo. — Mountain Grove Arena was filled to capacity for Saturday’s Family Pharmacy Panther Classic final between Hartville (No. 2 in Class 2) and Dora (No. 1 in Class 1).
The two teams with state title aspirations didn’t disappoint the standing-room-only crowd, either, as Hartville closed out a thrilling 68-64 victory in the final moments.
Ryce Piper scored a team-high 24 points for the Eagles, while teammates Cody Mahan and Braden Branstetter each added 16 points in the win.
Dora controlled the tempo and scoreboard for most of the first half and stretched its lead to as many as seven midway through the third quarter; however, Hartville would rally.
Following a timeout by head coach Brett Reed, the Eagles sparked a 20-5 run thanks, in part, to execution at the defensive end.
“Coach called a timeout, and he said we had to get down and guard,” Piper said. “He said we were going to come out and do what we do; we’re going to play defense. So, we started switching up a lot, got down and played like we can play.”
Reed praised his team for keeping its composure in the high-stakes atmosphere.
“We’ve been down in some big games before, and they just keep fighting,” Reed said. “That’s one of the many things that makes our team special — nothing phases them too much.”
After capping its big run early in the fourth quarter with back-to-back Branstetter 3-pointers — two of the junior’s five in the game — Hartville led 57-49 and seemed poised to break the game wide open.
Deficit aside, Dora’s Isaac Haney wasn’t about to let that happen.
The 2019 Class 1 Player of the Year and Missouri State commit scored six-straight points to end Hartville’s run and bring Dora right back into the fold.
Haney, a 6-foot-2 junior, scored 13 of his game-high 43 points in the final period.
“Isaac is such a great player,” Reed said. “He makes tough shots, gets to the rim and hits contested threes. We can only hope to make things tough on him, and he had all the people that guarded him in foul trouble all night, so we had to rotate different guys at him. We did all we could with him and, luckily, it was just enough.”
After tying the game twice late in the final period, Haney’s one-handed scoop layup from the baseline gave Dora a 61-60 lead with just over two minutes to play.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, the lead was short lived.
While a trio of missed Dora free throws in the final two minutes played a partial role, Piper’s heroics proved to be much more significant.
The 6-foot-3 junior scored 7 points in the final stretch to help seal the victory and capture the tournament championship for Hartville.
For Reed and the Eagles, Piper’s clutch scoring ability has proved to be a factor all season long.
“Ryce has been fantastic for us all year,” Reed said. “That what he does. When we need a bucket, Ryce can go get it for us, and that’s a tribute to the type of player he is. Ryce was a big-time player tonight.”
Dora head coach Rick Luna attributed the loss to free throws and a substandard defensive effort.
Dora converted 14-of-21 free throws (3-of-6 in the final quarter), while Hartville made 13-of-16 attempts from the line.
“We didn’t make free throws,” Luna said. “We missed enough free throws to win the ball game, and we’ve got to guard better — this team is built on defense and, tonight, we didn’t guard very good.”
Both teams are back in action Tuesday, Feb. 4. Hartville (18-1) travels to Fair Grove, while Dora (19-2) hosts Bakersfield.
Then, on Friday, Feb. 7, Hartville hosts Dora for a regular-season rematch.
While Coach Reed and the Eagles are focused on the pending trip to Fair Grove, six days won’t be a long wait, either.
“I would imagine much of the same next Friday,” Reed said. “I’m sure it will be a good one, with two really good teams battling it out.”
Panther Classic Championship: Hartville – 68, Dora – 64
Dora 21 11 15 17 — 64
Hartville 15 12 23 18 — 68
Dora scoring: Isaac Haney – 43, Bryson Luna – 10, Waylon Masters – 6, Mason Luna – 5
Hartville scoring: Ryce Piper – 24, Cody Mahan – 16, Braden Branstetter – 16, Eli Cook – 6, Brady Ward – 6