By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Purdy doesn’t have a single starter over 6-foot tall. The Eagles have a new head coach this season in Jeremy Dresslaer, and the program is fresh off its first Ozark 7 title since 2009.
And, following a 69-63 Sectional win over Blue Eye on Wednesday, the Eagles are just 32 minutes away from a Final Four berth.
“It feels great,” said Dresslaer. “It’s really good for the boys, but I have a group of seniors that made it to the quarterfinals two years ago. They’ve been here before and Coach Eagan did a great job here before, so I was able to hit the ground running. I was able to go to two Final Fours as a player so when you put your team and staff together and have that experience you know what it takes to win at this time of the season. Tonight’s game didn’t come down to them wanting to win, it’s what they were willing to do to not lose.”
What Purdy was willing to do to not lose on Wednesday night was defend.
Typically, a team allowing 63 points wouldn’t be overly pleased with the defensive effort. But, this was a unique case. Blue Eye’s offensive diversity and explosiveness makes them a difficult matchup, especially in Class 2 with a 6-foot-5 dynamic forward in Andrew Mitchell and another 6-foot-2 wing in senior Brennan Fairchild.
Blue Eye’s ability to shoot the basketball forced Purdy to go man-to-man defense from the tip, something that didn’t happen during district play. That defense, along with foul trouble, helped hold likely all-state forward Mitchell to just nine points, none of which came in the second half.
“Andrew is one of the best players in the area and is by far one of the best shooters in the area,” said Dresslaer. “You can’t zone them because of how well they shoot it – we’ve played zone the last three games of districts – so I’m just proud of the boys because we had to get it done man-to-man. We wanted them to shoot tough shots and we knew they’d hit some.”
Some of the toughest shots came down the stretch when Fairchild and senior point guard Ryan Reagan both hit contested 3s to pull the game within one possession.
But each Blue Eye rally was met with a Purdy answer, usually in the form of a free throw.
Senior Coly Keeling, who finished with a game-high 26 points, went 16-for-19 from the charity stripe. As a team Purdy knocked down 33 free throws. Blue Eye attempted just 20 free throws total.
Purdy’s trips to the free throw line came from its ability to consistently get to the rim.
“We wanted to be in attack mode all night,” said Dresslaer. “We needed to get to the line and wanted refs to have to make calls and for us to get to the line and put the pressure on them.
“Anytime you can get short corner touches against a zone, good things are going to happen. The first quarter was frustrating because my guys were kind of in the moment and not really in attack mode. They weren’t penetrating, and we were just passing it around and not getting great looks. We knew we had to attack short corner and try to penetrate seems.”
Fellow senior guard Tyler Keeler added 14 points for Purdy. Classmate Hunter Cook chipped in 10. Blue Eye was paced by Fairchild’s 21 points and Reagan’s 16 points. Sophomore Nick Garnett scored eight of his 12 points in the first quarter.
It had been nearly a decade since Blue Eye last won a district championship. Seniors Reagan, Fairchild, Jacob Crouthamel, Matt McDonald and Riley Linscott were part of a group that finished with four consecutive winning seasons and delivered an elusive district championship to the program.
“The ride they gave us can’t be replaced,” said Blue Eye coach Kyle Turner. “They led all year long and stepped up every time we needed them. I can’t thank those five guys enough for reestablishing Blue Eye Basketball, winning the district for the first time since 2009. It was a great ride. We didn’t want it to end here, but we knew it had to come to an end at some point. They’re great young men and have bright futures ahead of them. They have a lot to be proud of.”
Next up for Purdy is a date with Crocker, who topped Spokane 77-69 in Sectionals.
Dresslaer is unconcerned with what’s ahead of his team, choosing to simply focus on what his team can control.
“We’re just worried about us,” said Dresslaer. “On the board in the locker room I wrote down 24 hours of Purdy Basketball. If we go to work and do our job, we’ll be just fine. One game at a time, we’re just worried about Purdy Basketball.
Purdy and Crocker are slated for a 6:45 p.m. tip at Drury University’s O’Reilly Family Event Center on Saturday.
Purdy 69, Blue Eye 63
Blue Eye 21-12-11-19 – 63
Purdy 20-15-10-24 – 69
Blue Eye – Fairchild 21, Reagan 16, Garnett 12, Mitchell 9, J. Reagan 2, Crouthamel 2, McDonald 1.
Purdy – Keeling 26, Keeler 14, Young 10, Cook 7, Sanchez 5, Aldava 5, Propps 2.