By John Miller (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield, Mo. – For the ninth time in the last 10 years, the Nixa Eagles will play for a Blue and Gold Tournament championship.
The top-seed Eagles outscored fifth-seed Mount Vernon 18-0 over a nearly nine-minute stretch in the second half, pulling away from the Mountaineers for a 54-35 Blue Division semifinal victory at JQH Arena on Thursday night.
After trailing the entire night, Mount Vernon tied the game at 29-29 with 2:50 remaining in the third on back-to-back 3s from Cale Cornell. For the next eight minutes, 49 seconds, they didn’t score again. Nixa finished the third quarter on a 5-0 run and scored the first 13 points of the fourth, turning a tight game into a blowout.
“We challenged some shots and made it tough for them to score,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne said. “I thought our effort was really good tonight.”
Nathan Elmer led Nixa in scoring with 13 points. Braeden Combs added 10 points—all in the fourth quarter. Cale Cornell paced the Mountaineers with nine points.
“We played really good defense tonight,” said Nixa center Max Bilbrey, who finished with a game-high 13 rebounds. “Everyone was talking, everyone was clapping their hands when a big play was made. We were really focused defensively.”
Mount Vernon shot only 29 percent from the field (12-of-41) and 36 percent from 3-point range (5-of-14).
Osborne praised Bilbrey’s effort against Mount Vernon’s 6-foot-8 center Kyle Bushman, who finished with five points.
“I thought Max was key tonight,” Osborne said. “He held his own. He held (Bushman) scoreless in the second half, which was big, and made him take some tough shots.”
Mount Vernon (9-4) hung around for most of the night. Despite scoring 16 points in the first half, the Mountaineers only trailed by seven.
“I’ve been real impressed with Mount Vernon, watching them play the last two days,” Osborne said. “They’ve got some real good shooters and the big kid inside. They’re an outstanding free throw shooting team, and they don’t turn the ball over. I thought we beat a really good team tonight. They’re well-coached and disciplined.”
But the lack of offense was too much to overcome for the Mountaineers, who will play in Friday’s 4 p.m. Blue Division third-place game against sixth-seed Kickapoo.
Nixa (7-3) will face Mountain Grove in the Blue Division championship on Friday night at 7 p.m. in JQH Arena. They’ll be looking for their sixth Blue and Gold title in the last eight years. It’ll be Mountain Grove’s first-ever appearance in a Blue and Gold championship.
“We’ve had some really good players come through our program,” Osborne said, deflecting the praise. “Give all the credit to the players.”
Osborne has won seven Blue and Gold titles in his coaching career, the second most in Blue and Gold history. A win on Friday would tie him with Russ Kaminsky for the all-time record—one that has stood since 1973.
Nixa 54, Mount Vernon 35
MVHS 7 9 13 6
NHS 8 15 11 20
Mount Vernon: Ballay 2, Fenton 2, Vaughn 4, Bushman 5, Miller 5, Boswell 8, Cornell 9
Nixa: Sanders 4, Akers 5, Bilbrey 6, Canady 8, Wofford 8, Combs 10, Elmer 13