By Nolan Epstein
Willard, MO – A year ago, the Bolivar Liberators put on one of their finest showings of the season in the form of a 50-point win against a Willard team that was finding its way.
Things were a little more interesting this time around despite a nearly perfect shooting performance from the Liberators (14-2) over the first eight minutes as head coach Robby Hoegh’s club hung on for a close 43-37 road victory over the Tigers (8-7) on Friday night.
“This is a different Willard team,” Hoegh said following the hard-fought victory. “This is a tough place to play. Coach Frazier is a grinder.”
Shades of Bolivar’s drubbing of the Tigers a season ago were prominently present in the early going as the Liberators stormed out to a 24-6 lead after a quarter of action.
The Liberators literally could not miss – connecting on their first eight shots of the contest and shooting 10-for-11 from the field over the opening eight minutes.
“It was a great start, we needed that start,” said Hoegh. “They were open shots. They were shots our guys could make and we took them with confidence.”
After senior Conley Garrison provided Bolivar’s eleventh bucket on the first attempt of the second period, the well started to quickly run dry for Hoegh’s team as the Liberators could only muster six more points in the half.
The offensive woes continued in the back-end of the halftime break. As the offensive pace slowed for the Liberators, they managed a grand total of eleven more points the rest of the way.
“Our guys kind of got passive offensively,” Hoegh noted. “We were in ‘hold on’ mode.”
Bolivar’s scoring struggles left the door open for Willard, which faced a 12-point deficit going into the fourth quarter after the Liberators’ defensive play all but shut down the Tigers’ attack on offense.
A 10-3 run by head coach Lamont Frazier’s bunch down the stretch ultimately closed the gap to 38-33 with 2:57 remaining in regulation, but several empty possessions by Willard in the final two minutes and key free-throws off the hand of Bolivar’s Brandon Emmert cut off any path for a Tiger comeback.
“We had points in the game where we simply didn’t execute when we had chances,” Frazier said after the game. “Really, if one or two more shots go down, who knows what happens.”
Despite a rough three quarters for the Liberators following such a promising beginning, it was easy for Coach Hoegh to see the bright spot in a game that could have easily been lost.
“When it’s still in the balance, these are the types of games that make you better for March,” added Hoegh. “You want to be able to win close games. When it’s a coin flip, you want to know your guys have won a lot of coin flips.”
Bolivar will be back in action on Thursday when it takes on West Plains in the Liberator Tournament. Willard travels to play Camdenton tomorrow.
Bolivar – 24 8 3 8 – 43
Willard – 6 13 4 14 – 37
Bolivar – Conley Garrison 16, Brandon Emmert 15, Ian Jones 9, Connor Sechler 3
Willard – Houston Johnson 12, Stone Jackson 7, Daniel Abreu 6, Elijah Davis 4, Kenny Chambers 4, Sam Bird 4