The Montgomery County varsity boys basketball team has been on a tear in 2016-17 while North Callaway has experienced some growing pains this season under first-year head coach Mathias Miller.
On Friday none of that mattered as the Thunderbird's weren't intimidated to be on the road and it showed as the squad was only down 16-13 at the end of the first quarter and 54-50 heading into the fourth before finally falling to the Wildcats 78-64.
"I've been here for four years and North Callaway does not get scared of us. They won four games two years ago and two of them were against us and we had a pretty good team," said Montgomery County coach Ron Lebel. "For some reason they come here and play very confident. They're always a scary team for us because they do not shy away from us. They were physical tonight and out-rebounded us. North Callaway came over and gave us a game and played hard. Good for them."
The second quarter began with Montgomery County's Chase Parrish and North Callaway's Gabe Cash trading baskets to make it a 21-17 game at 6:02. That advantage then grew to 27-20 at 2:54 for the Wildcats thanks to free throws by Corey Kroll and a field goal by Aubrey Nelson. North Callaway responded by closing the gap to 33-28 with :41.2 left in the first half on baskets from Cash, Tully Thomsen and Khobi Kellerman, which Devan Davis then reduced to a four point deficit at :07.6.
"Chase got in foul trouble tonight, but he's been with me since day one. He played for my first team, which won a district and played at sectionals," Lebel said. "Since then he's been a leader for this team going on his third year now. He's a good kid who plays hard. He's consistent and shows up to practice every day, works hard and stays after to practice his shooting. Good kid, good player."
The third quarter took a very similar tone as Parrish accounted for the Wildcat's initial seven points against two field goals by Tanner Pezold and one from Cash for North Callaway to put the score at 42-35 with 6:26 on the clock. That spawned the Thunderbird's biggest run of the night as they pulled to within 44-43 at 3:25 with solid defense and baskets by Pezold and free throws from Dawson Wright.
"We just played with a lot of confidence. We shot the ball well, especially early on, and guarded pretty well," said Miller. "We gave up 78 points, but Montgomery County puts up 80-90 points on a lot of teams. They can put the ball in the hole. A lot of those buckets came late and we missed some shots, but our boys fought their tails off and we're very proud of that. They've got a bunch of guys who can shoot lights-out, so guarding and containing their shooters was our main emphasis."
While missed free throws are what kept North Callaway from seizing the lead, Montgomery County began to get back in the drivers seat when Tim Hall and John Shaw combined to go 3-for-4 from the charity stripe to give their team a four point advantage at 2:11. What followed were three points each from Dawson and Kellerman and a pair of hoops by Cash for the Thunderbird's that Hall and Chris Harrison countered with scores of their own for the Wildcats to keep the lead at four.
"Cash is a freshman and this was his first varsity start. He's played a few minutes for us and tonight he did an admirable job," Miller said. "He handled the ball well and they bring a lot of pressure from the back court. They press and trap, but I don't think he had very many turnovers. Maybe one or two. Gabe knocked some shots down and while he's 5-foot-5, he thinks he's 6-foot-5 so he's not afraid to go into the trees. He played well and that should give him a lot of confidence
There was more back-and-forth in the final quarter as these teams battled to make it a 59-55 contest at 6:03 and 63-58 at 4:44. Shortly there after Montgomery County's defense rose to the occasion while the offense turned free throws from Parrish and Kroll and field goals by Harrison and Nelson into a 76-60 advantage with 1:34 remaining in regulation. While North Callaway never surrendered regardless of what it was facing, by this point there simply wasn't enough time left for one last run.
"We had some foul trouble and some oddball rotations out there tonight. When we got back to our rotation and the offensive players that we like to have when we need points, we finally calmed down and stuck some balls in the hole," Lebel said. "We kind of scrambled around and the foul calls were lopsided tonight. They got to the free throw line way more than we did. I guarantee we got out-rebounded by 20. Somehow we got out of here with the win, which is what it's all about."
Montgomery County, which was led by Parrish with 27 points, Nelson scored 19 and Hall had 11 points, is now 8-1 overall, 2-0 Eastern Missouri Conference.
North Callaway, 2-7 overall, got 16 points each from Cash and Wright, Khellerman added 12 points and five steals and Thomsen scored 10.