By Cody Thorn (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
LIBERTY, Mo. — Same gym. Same stakes. Different results.
After coming up a basket shy of reaching the MSHSAA final four last year, Skyline vanquished those bad memories by picking up a 62-45 victory over Mid-Buchanan on Saturday at Liberty North High School.
The win sends the Tigers to the state semifinal for the fifth time in school history and the first since a runner-up finish in the 1994-1995 season, falling to a Cardinal Ritter squad with two future NBA players. Skyline is still seeking it first state championship after a pair of second-place finishes – the other coming in 1968-69 against St. George Catholic in the Class S finals.
Skyline (29-2) held off a late charge from the Dragons and then hit 12 of 16 free throws to ice its 21st straight victory.
Last year, the Tigers reached the state quarterfinals but lost 49-47 to Plattsburg and had a chance to tie it or win it on the last possession but never got a shot off at the buzzer.
There would be no need for such dramatics at the very end of the quarter this year. Those came right away in the final frame.
Skyline had a 47-37 lead to start the fourth following a last-second shot by Jaytin DeFreece to end the third quarter. Then, Miguel Conchola hit a pair of 3s a mere 23 seconds apart and the Dragons (22-8) had cut the deficit to a much more manageable four points.
Mid-Buchanan got three stops in a row on the defensive end but couldn’t trim the deficit down any further.
“Oh man, I thought we might find a way to get back into it,” Mid-Buchanan coach Bryce Kemper said.
The view from the other bench and Skyline coach Tommy Egan noted the importance of that moment.
“We have been a mentally tough team all year and don’t get down, we stay mentally tough,” Egan said. “It could’ve been big. Our fans are great but it felt like we were in enemy territory. They had a huge crowd but we weathered that storm. That was a huge moment.”
Sophomore Lawson Beem hit his only 3-pointer with 5:53 to play to help the Tigers extend the lead up a bit. The Tigers scored only one more basket the rest of the way, a layup by Connor Logan with 19 seconds left. In between, Kourth Cheek, DeFreece, Dax Beem, Lawson Beem and Ethan Edwards all hit free throws for Skyline.
“I think it is a great deal of relief,” said senior guard Dax Beem, who finished with a team-high 16 points for Skyline. “We felt we have been in this situation before and were weren’t nearly as nervous this year; being a year older helped out.
“Early in the fourth was pretty nerve racking for sure, being the quarterfinals and do or die. We hit some big shots and I’m proud of the guys. We pulled together and stayed the course and we didn’t get over excited. We played our game. Last year it was a real tight game like this, back and forth, and we made mistakes last year. We felt we were a little older and we weren’t as anxious and we didn’t make those mistakes this year. They kept after it and they kept going. It was a great game … they are a great team.”
Egan noted the age difference for his team this year – which returned all five starters from that team that lost to Plattsburg — prepared them for this outcome.
“We didn’t allow any of us to think of the next step (going to state),” Egan said. “Just being a year older is so important. We had been there before. A lot can be said for that. This is the exact same floor as before. I always say there is a big difference from junior to senior year and from freshman (year) to sophomore. Last year, we were freshmen and juniors; now we are sophomores and seniors.”
The Tigers held Mid-Buchanan without a point for the final 5:20 of the contest. They also overcame a six-point first quarter deficit by responding with a 24-9 run to make it 34-25 at halftime.
Skyline now plays against Oran on Friday, March 13 in a state semifinal game at JQH Arena in Springfield.
That venue will provide another chance for redemption on a court the team played and lost on before.
“We played there in the Blue and Gold and we are so excited to go represent southwest Missouri in southwest Missouri,” said Egan, whose team lost 67-56 to Class 5 Kickapoo on Dec. 27. “I love Springfield. I went to college there. We are only a 50 minute drive from there. It will be great.”