By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
REPUBLIC – Christmas came early for Bolivar boys’ basketball coach Robby Hoegh as his Liberators gave him his 200th victory in a 54-38 nonconference win over the Republic Tigers on Friday night.
“They had that stuff all planned,” Hoegh said of the celebratory silly string he wore post-game. “These guys – every chance they can get to try and have a party, they look for it. We have high-character kids, and high-character parents, always invested in each other’s son. It’s what high school sports are about.”
The Liberators, who remained undefeated on the season (6-0), got off to a hot start, sparked by senior post Brodie Pollock’s six points. Republic then reeled off six straight points to tie the game (8-8), capped by Race Looney’s pull-up jumper with 30 seconds left in the first quarter.
Republic opened the second on another bucket from Looney to give the Tigers their first lead at 10-8. Bolivar answered with a high-low basket from senior Dylan Rowell to freshman Kyle Pock, and the teams traded buckets before the Liberators went cold and the Tigers took advantage. Republic used a 5-0 run and led 19-17 going into halftime.
Both the Liberators’ defense and Pock heated up in the second half. Bolivar forced five Republic turnovers and Pock scored eight points, including back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Liberators a 28-26 lead with three minutes to go in the third quarter.
Pock’s 3-pointers and Cooper Hitchcock’s 3 at the buzzer extended Bolivar’s lead to 34-28 and the momentum definitely had swung the Liberators’ way.
The Tigers cut Bolivar’s lead to 34-31 early in the fourth, but it was all Bolivar and all Pock, who scored 11 fourth-quarter points, the rest of the way.
“We just picked up on defense and started working harder on the defensive floor, and it translated over to the offensive side and we started hitting shots,” said Pock, who scored a game-high 23 points. “It was really as a team, I wasn’t the only one. It just started flowing better and we got our shots, not forcing shots.”
The Liberators pressed the majority of the game, forcing the Tigers into turning the ball over and disrupting their offense.
“I felt like we kind of got rushed and hurried in the fourth quarter,” Republic coach Tim Brown said. “We didn’t really stick with some things that we’ve been trying to do in our program with our offensive system, and that happens in big games like that. That’s why it’s good to play good opponents.
“I thought our kids’ hearts were in the right spot; there are just some execution things that we’ve got to get better at. We’ve been on them a little bit about their effort, about doing some of the blue-collar things, and we saw more of that tonight, which means we can coach the X’s and O’s. It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
For the Liberators, who open play as the No. 3 seed in the Blue Division of the Blue & Gold Tournament on Dec. 26 against Catholic, it starts on the defensive end.
“It really just comes down to defense,” Hoegh said. “We were guarding really, really well, and that’s what we’ve been doing all year. It’s a collection of kids who really dig in and buy into what we’re doing and believe in each other. It’s fun to watch.
“What we try to do is get a little bit better every day, and our calling card is defense, effort and enthusiasm for each other. The basketball stuff kind of takes care of itself when you have guys with that level of character and humility.”
Pollock joined Pock in double figures with 10 points. Looney paced Republic, which is the No. 4 seed in the Gold Division, with 15 points, followed by Drew McMillin with 14.
BOLIVAR 54, REPUBLIC 38
BOLIVAR (6-0) – Hunter Berry 6, Cooper Hitchcock 5, Dylan Rowell 8, Kyle Pock 23, Brodie Pollock 10, Josh Bowes 2.
REPUBLIC (3-3) – Race Looney 15, Drew McMillin 14, Tucker Thomas 9.
Up next: No. 3 Bolivar vs. Catholic, 9:30 p.m., Dec. 26, Hammons Student Center (Blue Division-Blue & Gold Tournament); No. 4 Republic vs. Mountain Grove, 2 p.m., Dec. 26, JQH Arena (Gold Division-Blue & Gold Tournament)