They were coming off of a humbling loss to archrival Willard. The gym was packed with a homecoming crowd. In attendance were the 1963 Class M State Champions. You’d better believe the Republic Tigers were motivated Friday night.
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That motivation helped the Tigers, ranked second in Class 4, build a 10-point lead, then hold off a late rally to knock off Ozark 68-61 in a Central Ozark Conference game.
“Our guys did a great job of - after being embarrassed on Tuesday - coming back and really played with great effort,” said first year Republic coach Trevyor Fisher. “We attacked, we battled, and we got enough stops down the stretch.”
Republic led 39-29 at the half, a lead that ballooned to as many as 12 before Ozark started to rally back. OHS closed the third quarter on 13-4 run, then scored five straight - on a put back by Tyler Clanton and a triple from Jakob Neidig - just 57 seconds into the fourth quarter.
The rally knocked the home team on to the ropes, but not off their feet. Cody Geiger’s press break lay-in stopped the run and Dylan Bekemeier’s 3-pointer from the left wing put Republic back on top. Two Jake Fletcher free throws made it 58-55 with 3:22 to play, and Republic (20-4 overall, 4-2 COC Large) never trailed again.
Jake Fletcher exploded for 10 of his game-high 18 points in the second quarter, and was 4-for-5 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors. I think that’s what did it for us,” said Fletcher. “People stepped up and stayed aggressive on the offensive end, and kept it tight on the defensive end.’
That was thanks in part to 10-for-10 foul shooting down the stretch, and a defense that got crucial stops and forced turnovers down the stretch.
“We switched to a zone late,” said Fisher. “They were picking us apart in the man-to-man, isolating guys in the post, so we switched it up. They had a bunch of shooters on the floor, so we had to get them off their rhythm a little bit. Luckily they had a few turnovers and we were able to get enough rebounds down the stretch.”
Bekemeier finished with 14 points for Republic, which also got a double-digit night from Grant Hancock and Marcus Miller.
Brett Krisik scored 15 to pace Ozark. Clanton scored 12 - matching his jersey number - while Korbin Evans and Nick Cookinham added 10 each.
Ozark coach Steve Hunter put his finger on three crucial possessions where his red-and-white Tigers failed to score, including some skip passes across the top of the zone - rather than reversals against the grain - that failed to find their targets.
“It’s not always the guy with the ball,” said Hunter. “Sometimes it’s the guy that’s not coming to the ball. You just can’t turn it over during crunch time.”
The loss marked the second time this week that Ozark (13-11, 3-3) faced a double-digit deficit in the first-half. They overcame it knock off archrival Nixa on Tuesday. They were not as fortunate against Republic.
“The first thing I told them in the locker room after the game is we can’t keep digging ourselves a hole,” said Hunter. “Good teams won’t let you back in, or - if they do let you back in - you spend so much energy coming back that you can’t get over the hump. But the kids played hard tonight.”