WEBB CITY — The Neosho Wildcats have played a couple of their best games this season inside the Cardinal Dome.
They played one Wednesday night in the Class 4, District 12 semifinals against defending district champion Carl Junction.
Neosho blanked Carl Junction in the first quarter and earned a 25-6 halftime lead en route to a 51-35 victory in a contest the Wildcats never trailed.
Neosho snapped a seven-game losing streak in style.
Neosho (10-15) will play in a district title game in boys basketball for the first time since 2003 and will face Webb City (15-9), a team playing in a district title game for a fourth straight year.
Neosho and Webb City tip from the Cardinal Dome at approximately 7:30 p.m. Friday, following the girls title game between Carl Junction and Webb City.
Neosho’s defense, especially senior forward Cade Cradduck’s superb and shadow-like performance against Carl Junction’s outstanding player Trent Smith, proved to be the story Wednesday night. Cradduck did have solid help all night.
“He’s been talking about it,” Neosho head coach Zane Culp said of Cradduck. “That’s what he’s asked me to do all year long. ‘I want to guard their best player. Big man, guard, it doesn’t matter.’
“We’ve been working hard last three days. We had one of our assistants, Coach (Ethan) Murray, who’s quite a player to come in and play against every day, think he (Murray) got him (Cradduck) ready. He (Cradduck) wanted to do it and that’s half the battle, maybe 90 percent of the battle, when you want to play defense.
“We didn’t think 51 points would cut it. We thought we needed 55 to 60. We always talk about the one thing you can control when you’re not hitting shots is your defense and you hold a team to 35, you should win.”
Carl Junction’s six points in the first half all came from junior guard Teagan Armentrout and Smith did not reach the scoring column until he knocked down a 3-point shot to start the second half.
Cradduck was so relentless shadowing Smith that he likely attempted to follow Carl Junction’s star inside the locker room at halftime.
Smith made only two field goals and five free throws all night, before he fouled out with 10 points.
Armentrout would foul out before Smith and he led Carl Junction with 12 points.
Isaac Hoberecht hit for 11 points and Carl Junction’s three leading scorers combined for 33 points.
Meanwhile, Neosho senior A.C. Marion scored 11 points in the first half and unfortunately for the Wildcats, he came down awkwardly on his ankle early in the second half. Marion did not return, a precautionary measure in a game Carl Junction never threatened.
Cradduck finished with 11 points for a big night both offensively and defensively, Derek Ferguson scored eight, Quincey Willis came off the bench for seven, Cole Seward added five, and Sam Cook’s four points included his first career slam dunk in a game, an exclamation point for a 42-27 lead in the fourth quarter.
Mason Gammons had three points and Kaden King rounded out the scoring with a pair of late free throws for his only two.
Neosho and Webb City played a great first game earlier this season in the Cardinal Dome — a game Neosho led until Webb City’s 11-2 run down the home stretch eradicated a Wildcat victory.
“Last time, I had several people say to me that it seemed like a heavyweight bout the whole time,” Culp said. “We’re expecting the same thing (Friday) and they had a hard-fought game (against McDonald County). I’m expecting it to be a great game and a lot like last time. We’re excited to go out there and compete.”
None of Neosho’s players were even in school last time the Wildcats played for a district title.