By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
NIXA — The Nixa Eagles (18-6, 6-1) looked like a team on a mission during the first eight minutes of play against Republic (17-7, 5-2) Tuesday evening at Nixa High School.
The Eagles were authoritative and patient, cruising to the 15-4 lead.
But in pure Republic fashion — the sharpshooting Tigers made the necessary runs — and even pulled ahead for their first lead during the third quarter.
Behind the timely shooting of Nixa 6’2” junior Kaleb Wofford (team high 11 points) — and the aggressive play of freshman Kael Combs (10 points) down the stretch — the Eagles created the necessary separation in the fourth quarter en route to the 53-48 win.
Combs was held in check for three quarters of play, but the ball found its way into his hands the waning minutes of the fourth, when the freshman didn’t disappoint: netting all 10 of his points in the final eight minutes of action.
“Coach (Jay Osborne) was on us a little bit, a little sloppy,” Combs said of the third-quarter play, when the Tigers outscored the Eagles 19-15 and led twice. “We started playing sloppy; not playing team ball. He pulled me to the side and said it was time to score.”
Combs looked like different player, becoming more assertive as he knifed his way through the Republic interior.
Combs’ first bucket of the fourth came via dribble penetration, as the Eagles went up 38-37 in what became a teeter-totter scoring affair between the long-standing rivals.
After Wofford connected for his final trey of the evening, Combs showcased his speed as he once again floated through the defense.
Combs’ ability to rise up when called upon is a necessary step in his maturation, and his play complements the perimeter shooting of Wofford and company: a perfect concoction for the Eagles.
“I feel like, when I penetrate, I either get a bucket or I kick it out,” he said. “It makes us flow better. Anytime I penetrate, I feel like I can get a good look at it.”
No matter the juncture, the Tigers wouldn’t go away, as their perimeter shooting had them hanging around, as the team connected for 15 points from beyond the arc.
After pulling to within five points (20-15) at halftime, the Tigers pulled to within one at two junctures in the third, when the team knocked down four 3-pointers (Drew McMillin, Ahlante Askew, Race Looney, Joe Rexroat), as they took the 35-34 lead to the fourth.
Republic’s Will Berry and Looney hit quick jumpers, but Wofford’s late trey — compounded with Combs’ late pair from the line — simply was too much to overcome on this night.
Wofford said while the Ozark-Nixa rivalry is one for the ages, Republic isn’t far behind.
“Right up with them (Ozark) is Republic,” Wofford said. “Honestly, I’d say I dislike Republic a bit more than Ozark. It is what it is, and it is fun playing against them.”
Wofford’s stroke was on point from the onset, no matter the area on the hardwood.
“Our offense is a lot of high ball screens and a lot of cutting and getting open. We have good teammates who are going to drive to the basket, and I am usually open because my defender helps off. Kicking it out to me, I get open looks. Shout out to my teammates, and it really helps out when I am hitting,” said Wofford.
For Combs, he relishes the rivalry between the two storied programs.
“I am a freshmen, but coming in here, it was a little more packed than usual. I could feel a lot of energy. It was a good game,” said Combs, who added the win wouldn’t have been possible without the strong opening quarter.
Added Combs: “Yeah, kind of took away some of their confidence. It helped towards the end of the game.”
Republic: 4 11 20 13 — McMillin (17); Looney (16); Rexroat (9); Askew (3); Berry (2); Neff (1).
Nixa: 15 5 14 19 — Wofford (11); Combs (10); Mason (10); Sorgenfrei (6); Berry (10); Ruffin (4); Long (2).