The game between No. 7 Ozark and No. 2 Strafford was a seed mismatch on paper, but the Class 5 Tigers used their physical size to knock off the Class 3 Indians 65-58.
Brett Krisik was the star for the Tigers coming up with a game-high 23 points and great play on the interior.
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Performances like Thursday have become par for the Ozark senior.
“Brett is averaging 17 points per game because block-to-block he is a handful,” Ozark head coach Steve Hunter said. “He will jump up and shoot over you and if you try to belly him he will go around you. He is very wiry inside. He is a slasher type, so it is hard to draw charges because he turns his body. He has been a man-child inside.”
In the scheme of the game, the first quarter would prove to be the difference. Ozark jumped out to an 18-8 lead after the opening frame as Strafford had fits with the size of the Tigers.
“We are 6’2 to 6’6 five kids that start now. That is pretty rangy; I don’t care what class you are,” Hunter said. “I think defensively that helped us against Strafford. I don’t think they are used to playing against that long of bodies, so I think that helped us on the defensive end.”
Strafford would battle though. The Tiger lead was just five at the break at 29-24. Ozark would keep the Indians at arm’s length until a crucial stretch late in the fourth quarter.
With 1:41 left in the game Ozark was up 61-50. At that point Ozark committed a shooting foul on Jacob Wade and got called for a technical quickly after. The Indians made all four free throws and scored on the ensuing possession. Strafford then got a quick steal to wrap up a flurry of eight points in just 37 seconds of clock time.
“It is one of those things where you have to control yourselves,” Hunter said. “They were hawking the ball on rebounds and we didn’t secure the ball very well. I thought we overcame adversity there in the last little bit.”
The Tigers weathered the adversity on the strength of senior guard Jakob Neidig’s free throw shooting. Neidig did not score a point in the first three quarters, but he knocked down nine free throws in the final frame to ice the game for Ozark.
“You don’t see anything over here in the scoring column very much, but the guy is a quarterback on the floor,” Hunter said. “He handles the ball. He got to the line 12 times there. The ball in his hands, I feel pretty comfortable with that.”
Strafford would fall short as the troubles in the first quarter haunted the Indians throughout the game.
“We battled for three quarters. You have to battle for four,” Strafford head coach Mike Wilson said. “We didn’t come ready to play and played scared. You play somebody like that you can’t play scared and that is what we talked about. We got some respect from the seeding committee with the two seed and then you have to earn respect from the teams you play. We didn’t earn much respect it the first quarter.”
Jacob Wade led the way for Strafford with 19 points. Brandon Foley chipped in 18 of his own in the loss.
Ozark advances to play Mount Vernon in the Blue Bracket semifinals at 5:30 PM on Friday.