Just as this season's Mustangs have done in both of their Class 1 state tournament games to date, the 1967 LCHS team used comebacks in its regional title contest and state quarterfinal to reach state semifinals and finals
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor A team unexpectedly making its program’s first appearance in Missouri high school basketball’s state semifinals and finals for the first time in 42 years and an undefeated squad widely expected all season to be among its gender’s and classification’s last four standing in 2018-19 two years after achieving that same status will enter that play in the underdog’s role. The Trenton Lady Bulldogs, guided by former Southwest Livingston girls’ head coach and Chillicothe businessman Brian Upton, and the Linn County Mustangs, fourth-place finishers in their conference during the regular season now assured of finishing no worse than fourth in the state tournament, will travel to Springfield to participate in this season’s classes 1-3 Show-Me Showdown I state championship on the campus of Missouri State University, an event which begins tomorrow and concludes Saturday. Trenton’s girls (26-0) will clash with 3-times defending Class 3 state champion Strafford (31-0) in Thursday night’s 8:30 semifinal contest in the JQH Arena – home of the MSU basketball Bears and Lady Bears, with a final game – either for the state title or third place awaiting Friday. Late Friday afternoon, at the adjacent Hammons Student Center – the former home of Missouri State’s Bears and Lady Bears, Linn County’s boys (19-7) also will tangle with a former 3-times state champion (2006-08) – the Jefferson Eagles (26-5) of Conception Junction in the Class 1 semifinals at 4:30 p.m. The Class 1 boys’ third-place and title games will be Saturday in JQH Arena. While Trenton takes its 2018-19 “final exams” Thursday and Friday, Linn County’s Mustangs have an extra day to “study” before playing Friday and Saturday. None of the Mustangs’ seven regular-season defeats (in 21 games) were “bad” ones – falling to the likes of Tri-County Conference champion La Plata, a standout 26-1 Milan squad (twice), a 21-wins Meadville club, a 19-wins Mendon: Northwestern team (twice), and a similar-to-itself 16-10 Green City outfit – and LCHS also scored victories over every one of those foes except Milan. It isn’t surprising, given their solid, but not illustrious, regular-season showing, that coach Jason White’s club mostly has had to scramble to make it to Springfield. In the district semifinals, they narrowly trailed Green City after each of the first three periods before forcing the game into overtime, tied at 56, and then outgunning the Gophers 16-12 in the extra four minutes to get a second crack at La Plata. With excellent defense by LCHS – and, reportedly, passive offense by La Plata, the Mustangs built a big lead through three quarters in the District 12 championship game on their home floor and won comfortably to reach the state level. Then last week, they roared back from double-digits deficit after three periods to edge Slater on Michael O’Kane’s game-winning jumper with six seconds left before climbing out of an 8-points halftime hole against Wellsville-Middletown in what ended as a 6-points Linn County triumph. In coming from behind to get to the state semifinals and finals, this year’s Mustangs unintentionally have created a link with the school’s only other boys’ team to make it this far in state play. Way back in 1967, in the first year the current Linn County R-1 School District existed following the reorganization of the previous Browning and Linneus districts into one (the new school was located at the edge of Purdin in the west-central part of the county), coach Eldon Tietsort’s team had posted a superior regular season, going 29-4. Two of the defeats were Tri-County Conference losses to Bevier, with the others a Milan tourney loss to Northwestern and a last-seconds loss by two to long-since-closed St. Joseph of Salisbury in the championship game of the Northwestern Invitational. In what then were called the regional tournaments that produced the 16 Class S state-tourney participants, Linn County – with a veteran lineup featuring eventual first-team all-district seniors Phil Hoskins, a 6-footer, and 6’3” “Junior” Roberts and all-district second-teamers Phillip McClaskey and Ron Hargrave – posted three easy victories before having to come from behind to beat host Green City in the championship game. Two nights later, they started the state tourney – which then was a 1-week affair with first-round games on Monday, quarterfinals on Wednesday, and then semifinals Friday and title games Saturday – with a 28-points victory over a taller North Harrison club of Eagleville. Wednesday’s state quarterfinal was played at then-Northeast Missouri State Teachers’ College at Kirksville and pitted Linn County against 31-0 Bevier for a third time and, for the first 12 minutes or so, it looked like the third time would be no charm for the Mustangs as they fell behind 31-18 and Roberts was on the bench with four fouls. With virtually nothing to lose, although almost no coach today would have let Roberts stay in long enough to pick up four in the opening half, much less play him with that many, Tietsort reinserted his team’s big man with over three minutes to go in the half. He never fouled out and, while not scoring from the floor after returning, he did provide important rebounds and hit seven fourth-quarter free throws, according to the C-T account of the game. Buoyed by their coach’s dramatic decision and Roberts’ play, Linn County tallied the last seven points of the second quarter to be back within 31-25 at intermission. When Hoskins hit a shot with 37 seconds remaining in the third period, the Bevier lead had shrunk to 38-37, so, after the Wildcats controlled the opening tip of the last quarter (remember that?), Bevier’s coach – his team on its way to shooting only 15 percent from the field after halftime – made his own strategic gamble and began to stall. As a result, only five total points were scored in the first 5-1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter, but Linn County had three of them – all on free throws, leaving the game all even at 40-40 with 2-1/2 minutes left. Hoskins then broke the tie with two of his game-high 20 points with just under 2-1/2 minutes to play and, when Bevier didn’t counter in kind, it was the Mustangs’ turn to milk the clock some. With Bevier now chasing the ball, Hoskins finally came free for a basket and, soon thereafter, two free throws for a 46-40 lead with only 1:14 left. Again using up time after Bevier failed to score, a McClaskey inside basket with 26 seconds left sealed the win and it was Linn County, not the TCC champs, going to the state semifinals. The last two rounds of Class S play that year were hosted by Lexington’s Wentworth Military Academy and, there, Linn County lost to undefeated Archie in the semifinals and then dropped the third-place game to either Bradleyville or New Haven.