By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
When a 10-point lead dwindled to just three early in the second half, the Golden City boys didn’t buckle.
The Eagles had an answer every time Liberal threatened and pulled away late for a 56-35 win Saturday night in the Class 1 District 5 championship.
How’d they do it?
“Defense,” head coach Michael Reeves said. “What was the final score?
“We held them to 35 points,” he said after getting his answer. “I want to try to hold teams under 50. They’re a very good scoring team with that press and our kids bought into it and locked down tonight.”
Golden City won its second-straight district championship after a 15-year drought. They Eagles had to beat Liberal for the third time this season and this time on the Bulldogs’ home court.
Top-seeded Golden City was up to the task. The Eagles led by 10 points, 16-6, early in the second quarter and led 26-16 before settling for a six-point lead at halftime.
But when Liberal senior Bryan Rojo made a three pointer 24 seconds into the third quarter, Golden City’s lead had shrunk to 26-23.
Barely 10 seconds later junior Lane Dunlap scored, and after the Bulldogs came up empty their next two possessions and Golden City got a field goal from senior Arlo Stump and a three pointer from Dunlap, the Eagles’ had their lead back up to 10 points.
It only got below that once more, when Liberal senior Colten Slinker made a three pointer to cut it to 35-27 with 3:33 left in the third. The Bulldogs missed shots on five-straight possessions after that, though, and the Eagles led 40-30 heading into the fourth quarter.
“We’re a very good offensive team,” Reeves said. “This year we just finally started bringing the defense. This was the best defense we’ve had all year and every single time they’d score we either want a layup or a good looking shot on offense. Our kids did real well with that tonight.”
“I think one of the biggest differences is our shots just didn’t fall,” Liberal coach Travis Walton said. “I don’t know what our shooting percentage was from the field but we had a lot of really good looks and we just did not hit them.”
He thought that would change when the Bulldogs made it a three-point game in the third quarter.
“That’s the same thing that happened to us Tuesday night,” he said. “We just didn’t hit shots early and then we finally started hitting some shots later. We just didn’t hit those shots tonight.”
Golden City was led by three players in double figures. Dunlap scored 16, Stump had 15 and junior Chain Parrill scored 14.
“Everybody knows Arlo,” Reeves said. “He’s going to have his nights. He was actually a little off tonight I thought but he played defense. Lane was oh-for-five to start the game and in the second half he really came on and Chain is a kid that’s going to shoot. He’s got the shooter mentality whether he misses five or makes five he’s going to be ready to shoot his next one. I love his swagger.”
Liberal, which finishes with a 17-10 record, was the third seed in the district. The Bulldogs were led by 16 points from Slinker and eight from Tyler West.
Golden City, 25-2, will travel to Nevada on Tuesday to face Rich Hill. The Eagles won 59-27 against the Tigers on January 9.
Saturday night, though, Reeves and the Eagles were still celebrating another district title.
“This is my first one,” he said. “For the kids it’s their second. It’s very special to them. They came out, they were ready to win this year. They want to make it past the sectionals where they lost last year. Our goal was to get past districts but this isn’t their only goal, they’re ready to keep going.”