Mexico wins see-saw game with Fulton

By Michael Selecky

Sports Editor

The competitive rivalry between Mexico and Fulton was revved up about as high as its been in the past couple years on Friday when the Bulldogs varsity boys basketball team hosted the Hornets in the final game of the 2018-19 regular season.

This time around those stakes were even higher because Mexico starts Class 4 districts Monday at Hannibal against Kirksville, so a loss this soon before the playoffs begin is something any coach would avoid if given half a chance.

Perhaps the intensity and the chants created something of a vibe inside the gymnasium, but the ebbs and flow of this contest were extraordinary. Yet, when the Bulldogs ended the first quarter having taken a commanding 22-11 advantage, just to let the Hornets bridge that gap to 35-28 at halftime, it didn't take an expert to see what was coming. All one could hope was Mexico would make the necessary adjustments during the break.

But, when the third quarter ended and Fulton was only down 54-52, that meant there was a bad moon rising and the Bulldogs had eight minutes to stop it. Oh, and the final prize in this winner-takes-all shootout was that this was Mexico's Senior Night. That can make different people react in different ways, and for upperclassman Jai Lawson, JaSean White, Taylor Bledsoe and Cole Whalen it had them doing whatever it took to claim this game from the Hornets 71-66.

"Great atmosphere. We knew coming in both sides would bring big crowds. It doesn't matter what the records are, there's a lot of pride in this game, whether it's in Mexico or Fulton," said Pappas. "That's the atmosphere we like to play in and it was a great way to send our seniors off. We got some stops, got after them defensively and then executed offensively. We broke them down off the dribble and got to the rim, at times. We hit some big shots from outside. When the defense collapsed we kicked it out."

The final two minutes of this matchup were greatly drawn out by trips to the free throw line that included Bledsoe going 1-for-2 at 1:56 and 1:10 to give Mexico a 68-62 lead. Lawson also helped lock down this decision by making both of his shots from the charity stripe in the final stanza at 7:09, with :28.0 left on the clock the guard split his free throws to make it a 70-64 game and in the first two minutes he also posted a field goal.

"Fulton is a good ball club. You can't ever call them out. They know this is a rivalry game, as well, and they're going to give it their all," said Pappas. "We knew Fulton was going to make a run at us at some point. We just had to be sure we could withstand that run. We got some defensive stops. We also tried to get to the foul line as much as we could, and we accomplished that at the end of the game. I wanted our seniors to go out the right way and they were clicking on all cylinders."

Mexico's first quarter lead was so important because it forced Fulton to spend all of the second and third catching up. But, the reason this team got out to that 22-11 advantage was that Lawson, on his way to a 23-point, five-rebound performance, scored seven of the initial 10 points of the contest. He also closed out the session by charting the final four points. In between those two destinations Cole Whalen sandwiched a pair of triples around a basket by Isaiah Reams, who scored 16 for the game.

"Hopefully we can use this momentum and go up to Hannibal on Monday and play a good game against Kirksville, which we've already played three times," Pappas said. "We had three really good games against them and we're going to try and use this victory momentum to our advantage. We want to carry this over into the playoffs. We'll be taking districts one game at a time. It's a survive and you advance kind of deal once you get into district play. You can only prepare one game at a time."

Whalen also reached double figures in his final home game with 13 points and five boards, Jasean White came through with a half dozen points and five rebounds and Bledsoe scored six.