By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
WILLARD – Two teams with similar postseason playoff paths faced off in a Class 3 sectional with Fair Grove winning the battle of the Eagles in a 60-46 victory over Pierce City on Wednesday night.
Pierce City, which upset the Nos. 3, 2 and 1 seeds to win its district tournament as a six-seed, got out to an 8-6 first-quarter lead before Fair Grove came storming back in the second.
David Oplotnik outscored Pierce City by himself, scoring 11 points (to Pierce City’s 2) to give Fair Grove a 19-10 advantage going into halftime.
“My guys were getting me open and I was getting open looks,” said Oplotnik, who scored a game-high 26 points. “It was just amazing the ball movement that they made for me and it just allowed me to get open shots and for me to score.”
Fair Grove also traveled the upset road in its district tournament, knocking off the 1- and 2-seeds, to advance to its first sectional round since 2017.
“The last couple of games, we’ve kind of dug ourselves a hole early, so it was nice to get a lead early on a team; a nice change of pace for us,” Fair Grove coach Cale Ramsey said. “But when we got it, we just really never let up. We had a couple of possessions where we broke down a little bit, but other than that, I thought we were pretty solid throughout the game.”
Fair Grove, which improved to 22-7 overall, built its lead in the third quarter and maintained about a 13-point advantage, thanks to another 10 points from Oplotnik.
“We knew, just like them, that they were playing with the underdog mentality,” Oplotnik said of Pierce City. “We knew that they were going to come out strong and they were going to come out with so much energy. We were just going to try to match that energy as we came out, and obviously, we did that and we did that well. So, we’re happy about that.”
Pierce City (23-7) last appeared in the sectional round when it competed in the Class 2 tournament, and coach Matt Street was proud of his team and his seniors for what they accomplished.
“Fair Grove did a good job of not letting us get comfortable,” Street said. “They kept us out of our game, and we let it get away from us in the second quarter. I thought we did a good job of battling, and we fought till the end. Their size was definitely a factor tonight that we just couldn’t overcome at times.
“We talked about what (the seniors) have meant to us over the last four years. They’re going to go down as probably our winningest class ever. They’re going to go on and they’re going to be successful in life and they’re going to be the husbands and the fathers that keep this thing going. We’ve got to keep our heads up and just continue to fight in whatever we do, not just basketball.”
Next up for Fair Grove is another Goliath – Blair Oaks, which improved to 27-2 with a 72-35 win over Butler – at 7:45 p.m. Saturday at Southwest Baptist University.
“You’ve just got to play every game like it’s your last because it very well could be,” Ramsey said of his team, which last reached the quarterfinals in 2017. “We’ve got a bunch of seniors on here that know that and whoever it’s going to be, they’ll be ready to play. So, we’ve got to match the intensity and come out, be ready and be prepared.”
Class 3 Sectional
FAIR GROVE 60, PIERCE CITY 46
PIERCE CITY 8-2-16-20—46
FAIR GROVE 6-13-20-21—60
FAIR GROVE (20-5) – Cole Gilpin 9, Ambrose Broyles 4, Ryan Berry 3, David Oplotnik 26, Dominik Hoskins 16, Darin Oplotnik 1, Logan Daniels 1.
PIERCE CITY (26-3) – Jackson Kleiboeker 6, Aaron Garner 4, Trenton Kluck 4, Colten O’Hara 9, Kyle Renkoski 7, Treyton Sagehorn 3, Wayatt Perry 10, Zane Clayton 3.
Up next: Class 3 quarterfinal – Fair Grove vs. Blair Oaks, 7:45 p.m., at Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar