Ash Grove 80, Southwest 75
Ash Grove nearly blew a double-digit fourth quarter lead but was able to hold on and beat No. 3 seed Southwest.
The Pirates led by as many as 18 points in the second half. Still, the game almost went to overtime before the Trojans’ Austin Ross had his game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds bounce in and out.
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“We showed our inexperience,” said Ash Grove coach Jeremy Nicholson. “We’ve got two guys that played varsity last year. Obviously, we made shots in the first half and guarded pretty well. In the second half we quit making shots and we quit guarding.
“Last year, we didn’t really have that killer instinct. Closing out wins is new for us.”
Ash Grove could do no wrong on offense in the first half, leading 42-29 at intermission. The Pirates broke down a Southwest defense that switched from zone, to man-to-man, to a full-court press throughout the game.
Ash Grove had four players finish with nine or more points, including junior Cody Allhands who scored 25.
“Our defense was just horrendous,” said Southwest coach Jess Ross said. “We couldn’t get our defense set. We couldn’t guard man-to-man and we couldn’t stop dribble penetration. We’ll have a lot to work on in practice.”
Ash Grove had the victory in hand before Southwest staged its rally in the final minutes.
A 3-pointer from Trojans guard Jordan Epling cut Ash Grove’s lead to 74-67 with 2:10 remaining. Epling fouled out about a minute and a half later.
After two Pirates free throws, Southwest got treys from James Pettit and Austin Ross to get within 76-73 in the final minute.
Ash Grove then missed two free throws, and the Trojans got a quick layup from Blake Barnes to make it 76-75. Allhands sank two free throws to push Ash Grove’s lead to 78-75 with 18.6 seconds remaining.
After calling timeout, Ross set up a play for Pettit to shoot the game-tying 3-pointer. But Ash Grove double teamed Pettit, forcing Southwest to go to its second option – Austin Ross.
“We knew they’d be keying on (James) Pettit, so we set another pick down for Austin for the 3,” coach Ross said. “He got the open look and it was halfway down and bounced out.”
Ash Grove improved to 1-1 after losing at Crane in its season opener last week.
“I think tonight we kept looking up every second thinking, ‘When is this game gonna end?’” Nicholson said. “When you don’t contest shots on the defensive end, they have some really good players and they’re going to make shots.”
The Pirates face Mid-Lakes Conference foe Fair Grove in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Thursday. Washburn plays Catholic in the consolation semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday.
Ash Grove 21 21 16 22 --- 80
Southwest 19 10 17 29 --- 75
Southwest – James Pettit 28, Drew Farrer 14, Jordan Epling 14, Blake Barnes 9, Austin Ross 8, Justin Pettit 2
Fair Grove 60, Catholic 54
After watching Deric Link and Michael Thomas score 48 of their team’s 57 points against Mt. Vernon last week, Catholic coach Tony Armstrong vowed not to let them beat the Irish on Tuesday night.
“I told our kids, ‘We don’t want them to beat us. We’re going to make someone else beat us,’” Armstrong said.
That ‘someone else’ would be Jayden Happel.
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The Eagles junior exploded for a game-high 32 points and Fair Grove withstood a late Irish surge to claim the victory.
Happel had 16 points in each half, and five 3-pointers overall. He scored Fair Grove’s first 8 points as Armstrong focused his defensive attention on Link and Thomas.
Fair Grove led 29-18 at halftime and maintained a double-digit lead until late in the fourth quarter.
A few Irish 3-pointers, a handful of Fair Grove turnovers, and several missed free throw attempts by the Eagles kept Catholic alive.
With just over a minute to go, Catholic’s Tyler Ast drained a 3-pointer that cut Fair Grove’s lead 57-51. But on the ensuing in-bounds play following the trey, the Irish left Talon Bates unguarded near the halfcourt line and Bates dribbled in for an easy layup.
Catholic’s Tyler Johnson was fouled on his 3-point attempt with 14.7 seconds remaining. He would make all three free throw attempts.
Happel then made 1 of 2 free throws, and the Irish committed a turnover on their next possession.
Armstrong said Catholic got back into the game by finally making close looks around the basket in the second half.
“We couldn’t get it in down around the goal,” Armstrong said. “We got the ball inside but couldn’t finish. We’d miss a layup, get a rebound, and still couldn’t make it go in.”
Fair Grove was 7 of 16 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
Catholic 8 10 16 20 --- 54
Fair Grove 13 16 16 15 --- 60
Catholic – Tyler Johnson 17, Tyler Ast 12, Will Hennessey 11, Brayton Ballenger 5, Eric Smith 3, Dan Richardson 2, Issac Gray 2, Rob Ruzicka 2
Fair Grove – Jayden Happel 32, Deric Link 9, Michael Thomas 9, Cody Crews 4, Talon Bates 2, Mason Kesterson 2, Luke Ivey 2