By Amanda Perkins
West Plains, Mo. — With twelve seconds on the clock, the teams were tied.
The Zizzers led the Salem Tigers by one point in the first quarter but pulled away from the competition in the second, leading by 11 at the half. The host team closed the third up 52-40, but the Tigers fought back, coming within two points with three and a half minutes to play.
West Plains widened the gap to six, but sparked by a 3 from Jakob Happel, Salem answered with a scoring drive and put up seven quick points to the Zizzers’ two. It was now a one-point contest with 38 seconds remaining, 68-67.
Happel drove to the basket and took the lead for Salem with 12 seconds on the clock. Then West Plains’ Mitchell Mahan was fouled on a shot and knocked down his first free throw to tie the contest, and the second to regain the lead. Another foul on Mahan resulted in the game-winning points, and the Zizzers walked away with the 72-69 victory.
“We dug ourselves too big of a hole early,” said Salem head coach Conrad Prugh. “They made more free throws than us, and a close game boils down to free throws. We didn’t shoot the ball well from the line and they did. When you dig yourself in the hole early, every single one counts, and we didn’t make it count.”
Coach Kevin Smith said he knew his Zizzers would have a fight on their hands against the Tigers. “We knew that Salem was going to be really good and talented with a nice record coming in here, and we thought we had to play well to beat them,” he said. “Their size and shootability were real concerns for us. We wanted to try to make the game where we could grind it out, using ten guys, and ten guys kind of helped us get where we needed to be on the edge. We hoped our bench would propel us, and that’s kind of what happened.”
Despite Salem’s run late in the game, timely free throws and great plays from Mitchell Mahan helped the Zizzers earn the win. “Mitchell did a great job at the end and had good poise and composure,” said Smith. He also noted the toughness of Austin Wood, but added it is difficult to spotlight any one player. “They all have a big piece of it and are all so involved in it. The boys were really glad they got a good win.”
Coach Prugh said his eight seniors carry the team in many ways. These include Jacob Happel, who has been getting double doubles with 25-30 points and 12 rebounds a game, and Logan Woolf, who is still finding his shot but averages 17-18 points. Eric Wood gets the team going offensively as a point guard, Eli Floyd is a shutdown defender, and Dalton Cook is a two-way guard who does everything.
Despite having the pieces, “we just haven’t put a game together yet,” said Prugh. “We are 3-2 and took second place in the Sullivan tournament, and we still haven’t played our best basketball. We’re getting better and learning and nights like tonight make us better for game situations. That’s what it’s about.”
The Zizzers travel to Branson on Friday, and the Tigers host Cuba on Thursday.
Scoring for the Zizzers: Landry Randolph, 13, Mitchell Mahan, 12, Garel McGinley, 11, Jay Talton, 10, Clay Butler, 7, Dalton Ross, 6, Garrett Warren, 6, John David Mulford, 4, Camdon Murphy, 3.
Scoring for the Tigers: Logan Woolf, 18, Jakob Happel, 18, Dalton Cook, 16, Eli Floyd, 5, Cody Rictor, 5, Eric Wood, 4, Nate Bray, 2, Lawson Toman, 1.