By Brock Sisney (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
AURORA — Unofficially, there were 15 ties and 20 lead changes during the four-overtime Class 3 District 12 championship game classic Saturday between the No. 6 seed Pierce City Eagles and the top-seeded Mt. Vernon Mountaineers.
Pierce City senior guard Aaron Garner stepped into a 3-point shot early in the final minute of the fourth overtime for the final lead change of the night. Garner and fellow senior Trenton Kluck closed it out with four consecutive free throws and Pierce City earned a 77-72 victory.
Pierce City and Mt. Vernon played a game that everybody in attendance will talk about for a long time, with numerous great plays and shots made by both teams over four quarters of regulation and then four overtime periods. Both teams punched each other like two great fighters vying for a title.
“We had one a few years ago at Stockton,” Pierce City head coach Matt Street said, “but this one is definitely a lot bigger than one in the regular season. We talked about that if you leave everything out here on this court, we can take whatever result comes and I think they left everything and more out here tonight. Hats off to Mt. Vernon, they’re a great basketball team. We took every punch they could throw and we tried to throw some of our own back. We came out on top tonight.”
The Eagles have at least one more game, while the Mountaineers are done for the season and their seniors played their final high school basketball games.
“They’re physically and emotionally drained right now,” Mt. Vernon head coach Mike Ray said. “It’s always hard that last game. We have a lot of seniors on our team, Pierce City does too, and so neither one of those groups is wanting this to be their last game. I thought both teams played like that. They both refused to surrender and they (Pierce City) happened to make a play or two more at the end than we did, but it was a good game. I’m proud of our kids. I thought they did a great job.”
Pierce City played in Class 2 from the 2012-13 through 2018-19 seasons and returned to Class 3 in basketball this season for the first time since the 2012 district tournament. Despite being tied for the most victories (both Pierce City and Sarcoxie reached 20 wins in the regular season) entering the district tournament, Pierce City received a No. 6 seed.
“That was a little motivation for us,” Street said. “We thought we were better than that and they felt a little disrespected. It played right into our favor. I wish that we would be the 6 seed every time the way that we played the last three games. I think that helped us and gave us that extra little edge that we needed in a game like tonight.”
Pierce City defeated No. 2 Clever 54-45 on Thursday and No. 3 East Newton 59-50 on Monday.
“My assistant coach told me that when we got the 6 seed, that’s exactly what I want,” Street said. “I don’t want any upsets. I want to play the 3, the 2 and the 1. We got what we wanted and we made it pay off.”
The Eagles take a 23-6 overall record into their sectional game Wednesday night against District 11 champion Fair Grove. Fair Grove (20-5 overall) dispatched Strafford 34-31 on Saturday.
Mt. Vernon seniors Colby Johnston, Cale Miller, Slater Eldridge and Zach Jones led the Mountaineers to a 17-11 overall record and a perfect 7-0 mark in official Big 8 Conference games.
“They’re going to be missed,” Ray said. “They have been successful on the court and off the court, and they’ve been successful in football, golf and in a lot of school-related activities. They’re winners and they’re leaders. Yeah, they’re hard guys to lose and we’ve got a lot of shoes to fill there. They will be missed and I’m very proud of them.”
On Saturday night, senior Jackson Kleiboeker scored a game-high 22 points for the Eagles, junior Kyle Renkoski netted 20 before fouling out late in the third overtime, Garner scored all 14 of his points in the fourth quarter and beyond, senior Colten O’Hara led Pierce City with eight points in the first half and finished with 11, senior Wyatt Perry came off the bench for six points and seniors Kluck and Trey Sagehorn each made two free throws for their lone points of the contest.
Junior guard Mason Ballay led Mt. Vernon with 21 points and he scored all his points in the second half and the four overtimes. Ballay’s 3-point shot with 57.4 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime provided Mt. Vernon with its final lead of the night.
Johnston added 13 points and it was Johnston and Ballay who hit tying 3-point shots in the first and second overtimes, respectively. Johnston and Ballay each made four 3-pointers Saturday.
Miller scored 11 points before fouling out in the third overtime and junior Rafe Darter provided some punch in the paint with 11 more points. Starting sophomore point guard Kai Brown — who also fouled out in the third overtime — and Eldridge rounded out Mt. Vernon’s balanced offensive attack with eight points each.
Pierce City owned the largest lead of the night at seven points, 13-6 and 18-11. Mt. Vernon took an early 4-3 lead after four straight points from Johnston and the Mountaineers did not lead again until 32-31 in the third quarter, fittingly enough on a Johnston 3-point shot. After that point, that’s when the tie scores and lead changes began to accumulate.
Mt. Vernon scored the tying points in regulation and the first two overtimes. Kleiboeker forced a fourth overtime with a free throw.
Pierce City scored the first points of the game, the third and fourth quarters and the first three overtime periods. Mt. Vernon seemed to be playing catch up most of the night.
The Eagles closed it out in style with the final seven points.
PIERCE CITY 77, MT. VERNON 72 (4 OT)
Pierce City 13 11 13 10 5 10 6 9 — 77
Mt. Vernon 9 12 18 8 5 10 6 4 — 72
PIERCE CITY (23-6) — Jackson Kleiboeker 22, Kyle Renkoski 20, Aaron Garner 14, Colten O’Hara 11, Wyatt Perry 6, Trenton Kluck 2, Trey Sagehorn 2.
MT. VERNON (17-11) — Mason Ballay 21, Colby Johnston 13, Cale Miller 11, Rafe Darter 11, Kai Brown 8, Slater Eldridge 8.