In a game of streaks Tuesday in North Central Missouri Conference competition, the Mexico varsity boys basketball team began the fourth quarter at home against Kirksville, 7-16 overall, 2-8 NCMC, leading 42-36.
But, once the session began, the Tiger's Chase Kilday and John Bohon, who gave a nine-point performance, sandwiched field goals around a three-pointer by Austin Penick to put their team back up 43-42, and that's how the rest of this game would go.
Finally, after Matthew Huffman tied the game for the Bulldogs with :13.5 left in regulation by making a pair of free throws, Bohon got one last chance to keep this game from going to overtime with an inside score and give Kirksville a 51-49 league win. And while the Mexico defense had plenty to say to the contrary, the senior didn't waiver. Instead, he connected for the final score to the dismay of a packed house that came out for Winter Warming to see who was named Mr. Bulldog after the game.
"The difference tonight was our composure. Not taking anything away from Mexico. Just for us, that's something we've been needing to have, a game like that where we stay composed and we don't hit the peaks and valleys so bad," said Kirksville coach Tyler Martin. "A lot of times this year when we are down we get down. It seems like all confidence is lost. I thought we stayed tough through that and got good shots and had good possessions offensively. We also guarded the best we have all year."
The back and forth of the final quarter turned things into a 46-44 contest when Mexico's Zach Watkins sank a pair of free throws at 3:15 after a three-pointer from the Tiger's Penick. Then, when Vern Wiliiams went 1-for-2 from the charity stripe, Paxton Dempsay widened the gap to 48-45 for Kirksville with :34.1 to play, leading to a Jai Lawson field goal to once again make it a one-point contest at 47-48.
"Their front court did a really good job of keeping us off the boards and screening our big men," said Mexico coach Darren Pappas. "We struggled defensively to stop that inside game. They also hit some shots down the stretch and we missed some free throws. We'll go back and look at the film, see where we can clean some stuff up, but it felt like we let them hang around a little to long and they out executed us in the end and the better team wins in that situation."
Once the two teams returned from timeout, Penick, who scored nine for the game, found himself at the free throw line for the Tigers, and when he only went 1-for-2 to make it a 49-47 game, the Bulldogs appeared to have found life once again. The problem was Kirksville's Noah Copeland got the rebound to go with his team-high 11 points and Mexico had no choice but to foul him, making things feel even more desperate than before.
"We feel our inside play is a strength. Our post guys, we try to keep them confident and battling. They're not the biggest, but our post players have some length," Martin said. "We just tell them to play long and hit the glass. I thought they did an especially good job on the boards tonight. We got some good looks tonight offensively, but not letting Mexico get second chance opportunities was important."
What came next was rather improbable, but when Copeland missed that first free throw, the hope was he just might miss that next one, as well. Fortunately, that's exactly what he did, and not only was the Bulldogs Matthew Huffman ready for it, but the Tigers simply weren't ready for him to have it, sending the senior forward to the charity stripe with a ton of pressure on his shoulders that he shrugged off as though it wasn't the second-to-last regular season game of his prep career.
"Spargo had 20 points tonight and I think he's starting to shoot the ball well. He's also starting to read the defense better and see what they're giving him," Pappas said. "He can score inside and outside. That's going to be key. We need to keep him producing, but we also need that second guy to step up. Maybe even a third guy at times. If we can get three in double figures every night, that's definitely what we need. Right now we're only having one or two in double figures."