LEAD SPORTS PHOTO: The SoBoCo boys basketball team holds the championship trophy from the Tri-County Conference Tournament.
Eagles boys win conference tournament title for third time in four years.
The Southern Boone County gym boomed with the sounds of “Let’s go Eagles” and feet pounding on wooden bleachers. Eagles fans clad in white, red and black cheered on their team as a timeout was taken late in the fourth quarter in the Tri-County Conference tournament championship game.
Not to be outdone, Blair Oaks fans, in a sea of light green, echoed with shouts of “Let’s go green.” The back and forth of the chants mirrored the back and forth of game play between the Eagles and Falcons throughout much of the game.
Urged on by the roar from their home crowd, the Eagles boys’ basketball team came away with their third Tri-County Conference tournament championship in a 60-52 win over Blair Oaks.
In a packed gym split by Falcons and Eagles fans, the two teams started the game equal to the excitement in the place. SoBoCo was led by smaller guards and an offense that worked best in transition while Blair Oaks boasted a pair of tall and long post players. The outcome of the game would be determined by who was able to execute their offense better.
“Our mentality doesn’t change. We’re going to attack the rim, look for kickouts, obviously hope for some knock down shots,” head coach Andy Jahnsen said.
Southern Boone executed well in the early going, converting two early turnovers to three pointers. The Eagles took an early lead, 8-4 with five minutes left in the first quarter.
Fouls would prove to be a factor throughout the game for SoBoCo.
Tyson Smith, the tallest Eagles player, sat early in the first half with two fouls against him. Both teams pressed in the full court set in the first half and the first quarter ended with a 13-13 tie.
The full court press defense and loose ball handling of both teams turned the second quarter into a scoring drought. Only one point was scored by each the Falcons and Eagles in the first four minutes of the quarter. A three drained by each team took the score to 17 all at just under four minutes left in the half.
And then Sam Stichnote took over. Stichnote scored the last ten points of the half for the Eagles, making baskets by sheer strength and drawing fouls from the Falcons defense. Jahnsen put the ball in his hands in the last thirty seconds, calling a play for one shot. “Trust, obviously, expect, yes. He’s a leader on this team. He’s the guy everyone looks for in a big moment. Sam does Sam things,” Jahnsen said of Stichnote’s role.
Stichnote stood nonchalantly outside the arc with the ball on his hip as they waited for the clock to run down. SoBoCo fans roared with excitement, confident in their man. With seven seconds left, he drove past defenders, strongly laying the ball up and in at the buzzer.
Southern Boone went into the locker room with a 27-19 lead.
The lead grew throughout the third quarter as Jahnsen played to the strength of his team, running motion half court sets to spread out the defense and open up driving lanes to the basket. A three from Blake Dunn put SoBoCo up 32-21 and Blair Oaks started to feel the game slip from them. After three quarters, SoBoCo was up 39-25.
The Eagles extended the lead to 42-26 in the fourth quarter before Blair Oaks really started making it a game. Their post players became a factor, pulling down rebounds to give them second chance points.
Drawing fouls, the Falcons got into the bonus with significant time left on the clock, and Southern Boone quickly had players with three and four fouls.
“I always tell the kids you can’t take them home with you. They’ve got to call them. At the end of the day, you can’t worry about fouling out. You’ve still got to play hard,” Jahnsen said.
SoBoCo’s lead dwindled to three with under two minutes to play in the game.
But Stichnote again took control of the game, and effectively sealed the win, driving to the basket for a bucket and free throw to put the Eagles up 54-48 with a minute of play left.
Blair Oaks attempted to foul their way into more possessions, but the Eagles lead was too much. Southern Boone proved their No. 1 conference tournament seed was well-deserved.
“They’re huge in terms of their stature but it’s always a battle with them. It’s always a competitive game. They know what we’re going to give, we know what they’re going to give. At the end of the night, we just hope we’re ahead on the scoreboard,” Jahnsen said. The Eagles didn’t have an easy road to the championship game, however.
Eldon ran up against SoBoCo in the first game, but the No. 8 seed put up a challenge. The Mustangs broke down the press of Southern Boone well and boasted a few good guards with a three-point threat. It was closer at the half than many would have expected with the Eagles up 32-25. Stichnote had carried the team in the half with 18 points.
Shots didn’t fall easily all game and some easy layups popped in and out. The Eagles motion offense created space, though, and the forced turnovers for breakaway layups late in the game stalled Eldon.
Southern Boone won the game 66-47. Stichnote finished the game with 29 points and Rece Gilmore had 10.
Next, the Eagles had to get through Boonville with a chance at the championship game on the line.
The Eagles’ press defense created turnovers and an early lead after the first quarter, up 16-2. But the Pirates calmed down in the second quarter and wasn’t hurried by the defense SoBoCo threw at them. They put up their own press to slow down the Eagles, and a shot made in front of the half court line at the buzzer had them down 28-20 at the half.
Trading threes before the end of the third quarter, Boonville pulled to within three points heading into the fourth quarter. SoBoCo continued to play their game though, forcing Boonville into foul trouble. Getting to the free throw line often in the last minutes, the Eagles won 61-50.
Gilmore led the team with 17 points and Smith and Brady Trammell contributed 14 each.
Now 4-0, Southern Boone travel to Fatima for a 5 p.m. start Friday.
By Briley Eilers