By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The final eight minutes weren’t good, but the first 24 were.
And that was enough for the Kickapoo Chiefs to return to a familiar spot: Playing for a championship in the Blue and Gold Tournament.
Kickapoo led by as much as 17 on its way to a 53-44 win over Republic on Saturday night in a Gold Division semifinal game at JQH Arena. Anton Brookshire scored 17 and Elijah Bridgers added 13 points for the Chiefs, who improved to 6-2 overall.
“We quit attacking a little too early and Republic made some plays. But, we played three really, really good quarters that put us in position to win,” said Chiefs coach Mitch McHenry.
Kickapoo will play for its tournament-record 13th Blue and Gold championship on Monday night. The Chiefs face the winner of Greenwood-Ozark in the Gold Division finals at 8:30 p.m. at JQH Arena.
It’s a special opportunity for the Chiefs. As a Springfield public school, the Chiefs only get to play in the Blue and Gold every other year.
Kickapoo last won a Blue and Gold title in 2015. The Chiefs finished as Class 5 runner-up that season.
“(Our players) only get to play in one – two at the most – Blue and Golds,” McHenry said. “It’s a great opportunity for them. We’re excited.”
Against Republic, the Chiefs led 47-29 entering the fourth. Republic rallied from there as Kickapoo could only muster six points over the final eight minutes.
“With this group the last two years, it’s something we’ve battled and struggled with,” McHenry said. “To me, it doesn’t make sense because we’re all guards and we’re good free throw shooters. But it’s just something we have to learn from. We’ll get better as the year goes on.”
Kickapoo, though, put the game mostly out of reach over the first three quarters.
The Chiefs started hot. A Bridgers 3-pointer put Kickapoo up 10-2 early. Brookshire added a fastbreak dunk that made it 18-6 late in the first quarter.
Kickapoo’s lead swelled to 43-26 in the second half after a steal and layup from Brookshire. Republic got as close as 50-42 with 1:30 remaining on Joe Rexroat’s basket.
Drew McMillin led three Republic players in double figures with 12 points.
Republic (5-4 overall) plays in the Gold Division 3rd place game at 5:30 p.m. Monday at JQH Arena.
The outcome marks McHenry’s second win against the school he attended. He graduated from Republic in 2008.
Last year, Kickapoo beat Republic in the Class 5 sectional round.
“I’m not that young; (my time at Republic) was a long time ago,” McHenry said. “It’s cool; this is the second time we’ve played. I have a lot of respect for (Republic coach) Timmy Brown and their program.”
Kickapoo 53, Republic 44
Republic 8 10 11 15 – 44
Kickapoo 18 12 17 6 — 53
Republic – Drew McMillin 12, Ahlante Askew 11, Tucker Thomas 10, Nate Woolford 6, Joe Rexroat 5
Kickapoo – Anton Brookshire 17, Elijah Bridgers 13, Cary Ragan 7, Cameron Liggins 5, Zach McKinnis 4, Micah McIntire 4, Cross Elmquist 3