By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
In the final seconds of Friday night’s Pleasant Hope Tournament championship game, Marion C. Early coach Jonathan Winslow made sure he had all five of his seniors on the floor to soak in the moment.
The Panthers and their tight-knit senior class weren’t going to be a runner-up this time.
“I’ve had these seniors since they were in 8th grade,” said Winslow, who has been the MCE head coach since 2016. “We’ve played in several championship games and come up short. This is the first one we’ve won with that group.
“It was a big deal for them to get over the hump tonight.”
Marion C. Early (Morrisville) celebrated its first tournament championship in several years with a 61-36 victory over arch-rival Pleasant Hope.
“We’ve been in a couple of championship games at this level, but weren’t able to pull through,” said MCE senior Josh McMillen. “It feels good to accomplish this, especially against Pleasant Hope.”
Panthers senior Gavin Duchscherer scored a game-high 22.
After blowing out Pleasant Hope in mid-December, the Panthers faced a tougher challenge early on in Friday’s rematch.
Pleasant Hope trailed by only two points early in the second quarter.
CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE GAME
“Defensively, we were pretty good in the first half,” Winslow said. “Offensively, we were in too big of a hurry. Maybe a little too much emotion on our side at the start. But we settled down and got under control.”
The Panthers locked down Pleasant Hope as the quarter progressed and led 28-14 at halftime. MCE led 47-21 entering the fourth quarter.
Connor Shuler led Pleasant Hope with 13 points.
Before this season, the Panthers had lost three straight against their county rivals. The Polk County schools are about 10 miles apart.
“We’ve lost to (Pleasant Hope) the past three years,” McMillen said. “It’s a big game for us to win and get that losing streak over. It’s a big deal for us.”
MCE has now won five straight, including a four-point home victory over Ash Grove (12-3 overall) last week.
“We’re really getting the team chemistry together, more than ever,” McMillen said. “We struggled with that last year. This year, I think it’s a key factor in our wins.”
Defense has carried the way.
“Our defensive intensity was really good again tonight,” Winslow said. “The last four or five games we’ve been holding teams to around 40 points or less. I really like where we’re at defensively.”
Marion C. Early returns to action next Friday night at home against Humansville. Pleasant Hope hosts Fair Play on Tuesday night.
Marion C. Early (Morrisville) 61, Pleasant Hope 36
Marion C. Early 14 14 19 14 — 61
Pleasant Hope 7 7 7 15 — 36
Pleasant Hope (5-10 overall) – Connor Shuler 13, Adrian Sherrer 10, Ryder LaBee 5. Tanner Hillenburg 4, Dayton Altic 2, Ryver LaBee 2
Marion C. Early (10-5 overall) – Gavin Duchscherer 22, Jacob Presley 10, Josh McMillen 9, Landen Burrow 8, Hadan Madewell 6, Ian Vance 5, Chance Hampton 1