By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Hartville Eagles have a second state championship.
Holton Simmons still has a home.
In a tradition-rich program, this Eagles team is one-of-a-kind.
Hartville blew out Skyline 69-40 in Saturday’s Class 2 boys’ Show-Me Showdown championship game at JQH Arena. It’s the Eagles’ second state championship overall – they won their first in 2016 – alongside four other final four appearances.
“Hartville has a rich basketball tradition, very rich, and there’s been a lot of great players and coaches come through the program,” said Hartville coach Brett Reed. “I think it’s undisputable now that this is the greatest Hartville team in history.”
Hartville finishes 31-2 overall. The Eagles split a pair of games against eventual Class 1 champion Dora and lost by two at Class 5 Nixa.
“This is the most complete team I’ve ever coached,” Reed said. “It could very well be the best team I ever coach.”
Hartville dethroned defending Class 2 state champion Greenwood in the quarterfinals.
“We knew we had two games left and had to get up here and get it done,” said Hartville guard Ryce Piper. “Credit (our reserve players), they challenge us every single day in practice. They help us get better. They’ve done it all year long.”
Eagles senior Holton Simmons had brothers on Hartville’s last state championship team in 2016.
“Both my brothers got one. I was running out of time,” Simmons said. “Mom and Dad said they were going to kick me out if I didn’t win (a state championship). I wanted to get one real bad.
“To go out with boys like this and to have God bless our team all year…we give all the glory to God. It’s been a great year. I’m sure going to miss it. But to go out with a state championship, we couldn’t be happier.”
Hartville led from start to finish against Skyline and outscored the Tigers in each quarter.
The Eagles led 31-16 at halftime and 53-33 entering the fourth. Hartville closed the first half on a 15-3 run.
Hartville shot 27-for-51 from the field overall and limited Skyline to 15-for-40 from the field.
“We didn’t play our best, but Hartville gets a lot of credit for that,” said Skyline coach Tommy Egan. “They’re the best team we’ve seen defensively this season.
“Then, they’re so hard to match up on defensively. They have multiple shooters, multiple guys who can take care of the ball. They can space the floor. They can all get to the rim. They’re a very difficult matchup defensively.”
Braden Branstetter continued his red-hot shooting at the final four with 20 points against Skyline. Piper added 18 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
Branstetter shot 9-for-13 for against Skyline. Less than 24 hours earlier, he scored 27 on 11-for-15 shooting against Milan next door at Hammons Student Center.
“I’m not really sure if I’ve shot any better,” Branstetter said of the two-day stretch.
Said Reed: “I see him shoot like that all the time. When he shoots it, I think it’s going in every time. When he misses it, I’m actually shocked.”
Hartville dominated on the glass, out-rebounding Skyline 37-14.
“For our size, us being a small team, we have done a really, really good job on the glass,” Reed said. “I think that’s one of the things that made us special.”
Sophomore Lawson Beem led Skyline with 18 points.
Skyline finishes 30-3 overall. The Tigers won 23 straight games before Saturday’s loss and went undefeated in the Mid-Lakes Conference.
The Tigers graduate a five-player senior class in Dax Beem, Ethan Edwards, Gage Gunter, Chris Logan and Connor Logan.
“(Our seniors) bring so much work ethic,” Egan said. “I told our younger guys, ‘We have a ton of talent coming back, but I’m worried because of what these (seniors) provide in terms of leadership, work ethic and a team-first mentality.’ Our young guys will have to understand that there’s a big hole there we’ll have to replace. I don’t care how talented we are.”
Hartville will be in position to repeat as state champs next season. The Eagles graduate a lone senior in Holton Simmons.
“I think there’s been years where we’ve been counted out because of graduation,” Reed said. “Next year, we’ll have a lot coming back and expectations will be high. But year in, year out, guys come in and they do the work and put in the time. Right now, we’re just going to enjoy this one.”
Hartville 69, Skyline 40
Skyline 11 5 17 7 – 40
Hartville 16 15 22 16 – 69
Skyline (30-3 overall) – Lawson Beem 18, Dax Beem 8, Bradyn Porter 7, Jaytin DeFreece 4, Chris Logan 3
Hartville (31-2 overall) – Braden Branstetter 20, Ryce Piper 18, Holton Simmons 13, Cody Mahan 9, Brady Ward 5, Eli Cook 4