19-7 Purdin-based LCHS team trailed Wellsville-Middletown by eight points at halftime, but took lead on buzzer-beater trey by Jase White at end of third quarter and never trailed again. Will face Conception Junction: Jefferson in state semis at Springfield next Friday at 4:30 p.m.
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
SALISBURY, Mo. — Again playing with poise, resolve, and belief after finding themselves substantially behind, the Linn County High School Mustangs, against the odds, are bound for the 2018-19 Class 1 state tournament semifinals at Springfield after a 55-49 victory over Wellsville-Middletown Saturday afternoon (March 2).
Victorious in Chillicothe in the opening round of state play last Tuesday after trailing Slater by 12 points in the last minute of the third period, the Mustangs – whose pre-consolidation “ancestor” Linneus High had its boys’ team advance to the then-Class S semifinals and finals 42 years ago – overcame a 9-points deficit against Wellsville-Middletown’s Tigers. This time, however, that negative gap was early in the second stanza and Linn County actually led all except 39 seconds of the final period this time
A 3-points basket from the left wing by LCHS senior Kade Ward put the Mustangs in front 37-34 with 6:09 left in regulation time and there they stayed. They briefly led by four on Chadley Waltz’s free throw in mid-quarter, then gained a 5-points margin on Jase White’s charity toss with 1:27 left. After the east-central Missouri foe drew back within two, a Ward free throw, one by Cody Murrell, and then two by Michael O’Kane established a 6-points spread with 18.5 seconds to go.
When Wellsville-Middletown, which missed several 3-points tries in the last 90 seconds, ill-advisedly drove inside for a 2-points basket with only 13 seconds left, leaving it still four points behind, the outcome effectively set as the Tigers would not have time for two more possessions. For good measure, Linn County’s O’Kane dropped in another pair of charity tosses to create the final score.
Linn County (19-7) will be matched against a very, very good Conception Junction: Jefferson Eagles (26-4) in the semifinals in the Hammons Student Center (just west of JQH Arena) on the campus of Missouri State University in the semifinals next Friday at 4:30 p.m. Jefferson dominated previously-undefeated Harrison-Daviess Conference champion Winston 55-39 in their quarterfinal contest Friday.
Wellsville-Middletown guards Mitchell Canterbury and Dennis Hunt had an early field day from long range, repeatedly being left open and burying a handful of trifectas between them to power the Tigers to a 20-11 lead after eight minutes.
Jase White’s three-points play and 3-points shot with a right-corner Ward triple in between allowed the Mustangs to quickly jump within a point in the opening two minutes of the second stanza, but Wellsville-Middletown’s success in breaking down the LCHS defense with dribble penetration that, when help defense came, allowed for passes that created undefended, point-blank shots, allowed the Tigers (13-14) to rebuild their lead to 31-23 at halftime.
Having tightened their defense late in the first half, the Mustangs built on that when play resumed, throttling the Eastern Missouri Conference opponent on only one field goal and two points the entire third quarter and early into the fourth – a span over just over 10 minutes.
With Wellsville-Middletown idled on the scoreboard, Linn County erased its deficit within the first three minutes of the second, but didn’t reclaim the lead – it had been in front twice in the first 75 seconds – until Jase White netted a 3-pointer from the left side just before the buzzer at the end of the third frame.
Up 34-33 going to the fourth, the Mustangs brushed aside the Tigers’ tying the game just over a minute in when Ward found the range from the left side beyond the arc with 6:09 on the clock. Although Wellsville-Middletown stayed close the rest of the way, the teams essentially traded points the next five minutes and the Tigers never again had the ball with a chance to take a lead.
Unofficially, Jase White’s 26 points led all scorers with Chadley Waltz getting 10, O’Kane nine, and Ward seven. Wellsville-Middletown freshman forward Keaton Mayes, repeated, point-blank beneficiary of dishoffs from penetrating teammates, topped the Tigers with 16 points. After having 11 in the opening period, Canterbury added only the two in the last 15 seconds to leave him with 13. Hunt, who – like Canterbury – did not connect from 3-points land after the opening-quarter salvo, finished with 11 markers.