By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
SPRINGFIELD — The Hartville Eagles basketball team (30-2) was flat out greedy against the Milan Wildcats (25-4) Friday at the Class 2 semifinals at Hammons Student Center.
Other than 10 turnovers and a handful of fouls, the Eagles were about as textbook as a program can get, as they shot 65 percent in the first half en route to the 71-37 win.
The Eagles now prepare for a potent Skyline Tigers team for the state title.
Skyline defeated Oran, 70-51, to advance.
What a difference a year makes, as the Eagles previously fell to Greenwood (last year’s Class 2 winner), 73-71, during sectionals.
“Obviously, we are very excited,” said Hartville head coach Brett Reed, who guided his Eagles to a state championship on the heels of the 2016-17 campaign. “We get to play for another state championship, and we are excited about tomorrow.”
With junior guard Ryce Piper drawing two early fouls, the spotlight turned to 6’2” guard Braden Branstetter, who had a field day, leading all scorers with his 27-point performance.
“We are just trying to take it game-by-game. It doesn’t matter who scores. We all just want a state championship,” said Branstetter.
Branstetter tallied 10 points in the opening quarter and hit the second quarter’s opening 3-pointer, and the Eagles were, well, soaring.
The Wildcats did not net their 20th point until two minutes remaining in the opening half.
Piper returned to the hardwood as the second half commenced and quickly converted an old-fashioned 3-point play.
Piper, Branstetter and junior Brady Ward accounted for 19 of the team’s 25 third-quarter points.
The turbo clock kicked in during the final eight minutes of regulation and the Eagles entered celebratory mode.
“We would have taken a 1-point win, but the turbos are a bit easier on the ticker,” Reed joked.
The Eagles have experience, sure, but they also have depth: which paid dividends on this night.
Piper, Branstetter, Holton Simmons, and Ward all netted double-digit scoring.
For Reed, that has been the program’s mantra this season.
“That has been our team all year,” he said. “We are a true definition of a team. On any given night, anyone can lead us in scoring. Sometimes you are the star. Sometimes you help the star.”
Whether it be Milan or the Tigers of Skyline, when it comes to Hartville, it’s pick your poison.
“All year long, extremely balanced. Tough to prepare for,” Reed said of his team.
During the 2016-17 season, when the team last won a state title, the aforementioned players were in junior high.
“I think we have been waiting for this for a long time, since we were kids,” said Simmons.
Defensively, the Eagles forced 28 turnovers, but Reed said there is more work to do.
“Well, there are things we can improve upon. I feel like we take a lot of pride in the way we guard and rebound. But, overall, if you hold a high-school basketball team in the 30s, you are doing a pretty good job. I need to commend these boys. All year, they have really hung their hats on defense and rebounding. That has gotten them to where they are today.”
Hartville faces Skyline at 5:20 p.m. tomorrow at JQH Arena.
Hartville — 20 20 25 6: Branstetter (27); Piper (12); Simmons (11); Ward (16); Coday (2); Cook (2); Mahan (1).
Milan — 7 14 11 5: R. Dabney (12); Shaw (6); Morehead (5); Roman (5); Weaver (3); D. Dabney (4);Gonzalez (2).