The Neosho Wildcats, No. 2 seed in the Class 4, District 12 tournament in Webb City, waits in the semifinals Wednesday for the winner between No. 3 Cassville and No. 6 Carl Junction on Monday.
Neosho played tough games against both teams in the regular season, and we can expect either semifinal opponent to play zone and force Neosho to make shots, something which has struggled to do at times this season.
“They were both dogfights,” Neosho head coach Zane Culp said. “We won each of them by three. They both have really good players. Trent (Smith) is the best player I think in the area and maybe an all-COC player and definitely all-district player. That’s hard to handle, then Cassville has a bunch of good parts. They have two kids (Ethan Hoppes, D.J. White) that are probably all-district, all-conference, plus a big kid and some other kids who play hard. Which ever team we play, it’s going to be a battle.”
“A big part of why we beat CJ was that we hit a bunch of shots. We hit eight 3s in that game. Derek Ferguson had three and I think Cole Seward had two, (Kaden) King hit one, and a bunch of guys hit threes. It makes it harder to play a zone. We’ve just got to hit shots.
“Cassville was the same way, but we’re just as athletic as them in a lot of ways so we were able to get inside and it didn’t work quite as well for them without hitting the outside shot.”
In the 52-49 win over Cassville back in December, Mason Gammons and Quincey Willis led Neosho offensively with 11 and 10 points, respectively, but it was Neosho’s defense that delivered.
Cassville only scored 20 points in the second half, including five in the fourth quarter.
In the 60-57 win over Carl Junction in Central Ozark Conference, Neosho’s only win in conference play, A.C. Marion, Ferguson, and Kaden King combined for 45 points.
Marion scored a team-high 21 points, Ferguson scored a career-high 17 points despite foul trouble, and King netted all seven of his points in the fourth quarter. Marion and Ferguson scored Neosho’s first 17 points of the game.
Trent Smith led Carl Junction with 21 points, but none of them were scored the final 5 minutes, 24 seconds, and Teagan Armentrout and Alex Baker chipped in 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Neosho, 9-15 on the season, has lost seven consecutive games entering postseason play, including games against Joplin and Nixa in the final week of the regular season.
Neosho trailed Joplin 20-2 after the first quarter during a 63-49 loss and the Wildcats managed only seven points in the first half during a 58-30 loss to Nixa. (Nixa head coach Jay Osborne reached 600 victories for his career.)
“That’s hard to overcome,” Culp said. “We scored 23 or whatever in the second half (against Nixa), but that’s not necessarily good enough either. If you score 23, you can still fight back and you can get back in it. If you score seven, you just can’t, usually.”
Marion led Neosho with 19 points and King was next with six. The next time the Wildcats have that lack of firepower, it will undoubtedly end their season.