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Blue and Gold Roller Coaster: Ava Steps Further into Annual Tourney

Ava High School senior Blake King (3) moves back up to the top of the key as the Bears' offense tries to get into the paint during a third-round, semifinal game against Lebanon at the 2019 Blue and Gold Tournament on Saturday, December 28, 2019 in the Hammons Student Center at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. (Jason Hoekema/Herald)

By Jason Hoekema /

SPRINGFIELD – Nothing can be as frustrating as getting the lead with a minute left in spite of poor officiating, then losing the lead because of the same reason. 

It wasn’t just hand checks or pushes, at one point an official allowed a free throw from the volleyball boundary instead of the free throw line. That same quality of officiating led to a costly charging call against Andrew Dalton who was attempting a shot inside the lane while completely surrounded by Willard defenders. 

The whistle initially appeared as an obvious shooting foul, but it turned on the Bears and coach Damon Seiger made his frustration over the poor call obvious from the sideline. 

It seemed that the whistle called the final, 46-42, near upset by the Ava Bears in a game where 20 free-throw points cost the Bears a game. 

The Better Offense

Although both defenses worked wonders in keeping each other out of the paint, it was Ava’s offense which took the trophy home with seven shots from outside on top of eight buckets from layups and shots made out of nothing by Dalton and Nate Swofford. 

The Willard Tigers were able to penetrate for ten buckets but only picked up two clean shots from the perimeter. 

Meanwhile, Dalton found the net with two bombs in the first quarter on top of two drives to the bucket. Swofford hit another in the second as did Quinton Donley, the clutch sharpshooter highlighted in the win against Gainesville earlier this year. 

At the break it was an upset in the making as the Bears hit the locker room leading 21-17.

In the first half the Tigers struggled with pushing into the lane. Running mostly man coverage the Bears were in sync with the Tiger offense preventing bad man-to-man matches and beating the purpose of the screen.

The Tigers only found the steel three times in the first quarter. One-third of their first-quarter points were from the line on fouls given up by Swofford and Jacob Gillies. 

In the second quarter the Tigers did not fare any better and could only get inside and to the rim on three occasions while the Bears matched them inside and out-shot them from outside. 

The Tigers knew what needed to be done and that they needed to get Daniel Abreu to the inside as much as possible. The Bears were forced to react to a new and enlightened Tiger offense where they were outscored 13-5 in the third quarter.

Abreu answered the first half opening three-pointer from Dalton with one of his own. Caden Mowell also came alive with a long ball of his own while Maurice Grayer was able to get inside for one shot plus three on drawn fouls. 

Throughout the second half the Tigers were fouling frequently and gave up the bonus with 2:06 left in the third quarter. Plenty of time for Ava to take advantage of time at the charity stripe. 

The Tigers finally took their lead with 4:42 left in the third quarter, but Ava was not down-and-out yet. 

Coach Seiger and the Bears’ defense quickly made changes and kept the Tigers all but shut-out of the inside. It did, however, come with a cost.

In a fourth quarter tied at 16 for each team, the Tigers were only able to get two in on the Bears. The other 12 points were drawn mostly by Abreu as the Bears worked aggressively to keep him under their paw.  

Kaden Bruce came up big with a clean shot and into the net for three from the top of the key, boosting the Bears up to 41 and into the lead with just one-minute left. 

The Tigers were able to find their way into the lane for a bucket by Haden Brown, who also drew the and-one on a call clearly distained by Dalton, believing that he had taken a clean swipe at the ball and not at Brown’s shooting arm. 

This was the second and-one called in Brown’s favor. The first was also late in the fourth when Kaden Bruce was seen clearly out-elevating Brown during the shot for a clean swipe at the ball. 

The zebra stripes didn’t agree as Bruce expressed his disagreement with the call and

the Tigers came back from a 42-40 upset and into a 46-42 win in the last sixty seconds of regulation. 

Double Trouble

There was no shortage of excitement late into Friday’s game against Springfield Hillcrest where the whistle helped Ava after a day of hindrance.  There was no shortage of fouls on Friday, either. 

At the end of regulation, the game was knotted up at 62 thanks largely to two short runs of six in the fourth quarter.

The board wasn’t in Ava’s favor, either. 

The Bears had to overcome a 15-8 first quarter where it appeared that Ava was a no-show after Thursday’s defeat. 

With only three buckets split between King, Gillies and Dalton it looked like it would be another “two-and-through” year at the holiday tournament. 

Call the Cops!

Because Quinton Donley made a killing in the second quarter.

The Ava sharpshooter came up big – as he did in Gainesville – and hit the net from outside three times for 12 points before the break. 

As a fresh set of legs on the maple the Hillcrest defense didn’t know what they were trying to defend. They left him outside, and it cost them.

Then another unsuspecting strike came from the arc when Zach Mendel got the ball and had more than ample time to make the calculations to hit the bucket from the corner. 

The only one to break into the lane for points was Dalton, who also took the Hornets to the bank and cashed in on four fouls for six points in the first half. 

Double Homicide

Dalton went to the line for 18 shots on behalf of Hillcrest charity, and he killed it shooting a .889 for 16 points through extra minutes. Seven of those shots were what stomped the Hornets, Dalton taking them to the cleaners with seven points in overtime for a game total of 26. 

Swofford, Gillies, and Payton Evans came out of the break for 14 points in the third quarter. On one of those buckets Swofford had a jailbreak moment and was able to move some momentum with an uncontested layup. 

In addition to the layup, Gillies also took a solid charge just before Ava turned up the full-court pressure. 

Evans was the unsung hero of Friday’s contest, his first bucket brought the Bears back within two and his second put them ahead in the third where the Bears led, 47-45.

Later in the third Gillies tied the game at 37 before Dalton followed with a knot at 43. 

The fourth went to Hillcrest, 17-15, but it was the endgame which lit up the Hammons Student Center.

Free Basketball

The Bears were down before they made two runs for six each, which put them back in reach of a win. It was poor guarding at the perimeter which pushed the Bears into a do-or-die overtime situation. 

Hillcrest shifted focus away from the lane and started working schemes on the outside where they were able to hit threes on seven occasions – sometimes in succession. 

Devin Oliver was mostly silent through three, but he opened up and matched the work Donley had done in the second with triple-threes in the fourth. Arguably, the 12 points cost the Bears a game within regulation. 

Threes hurt.

The Bears took a shy, two-point lead near the end of the game but Crishawn Haggard was able to penetrate for a bucket, tying the game at 62. The Bears tried to break the defense for a quick bucket in the final seconds, but the ball came loose, and an unanswered prayer kept Ava in the game.

Jacob Gillies was the hero of the first overtime period with a bucket on a rebound off the rim to tie it again, this time at 69.

Whether it be frustration or perhaps the Hornets ran out of gas for fresh legs the fouls came pouring-in for Ava. 

Hillcrest committed a total of 16 team fouls after the halftime break and they kept giving them up to Dalton in 2OT.

The fouls cost the Hornets the game with the last nine of Ava’s 12 second overtime period points coming from the whistle and an overall .778 shooting average from the stripe. 

Uncharted Maple

It’s been a while since the Bears have made the step past the first two rounds in the annual holiday tournament. Yet, it’s been a year of firsts for the rural school tucked inside Douglas County. 

The Bears came out neck-and-neck against the Lebanon Yellow Jackets Saturday morning as they entered the third round of play in the Blue and Gold. Both teams came up with 15 for a tied first quarter. 

The Bears couldn’t get anything done outside while Bryson Crowell hit two from the arc along with one from Quentan Shelton. Instead, Ava hit the paint for seven buckets and a single on a foul drawn by Kaden Bruce. 

The second quarter was a big win for the Bears as they held Lebanon to four and scored six themselves to stay ahead 21-19 at the break. 

Unsung Heroes

Through the tournament Andrew Dalton has led the stat book, but an unsung hero came up big for the Bears. 

Blayne Mendel, who was out yesterday with an illness, recovered enough to get on the court and put up two very important buckets late in the second. 

Mendel’s contribution was the tying and go-ahead shot for the Bears, who trailed 10-17 in the final minute of the half. 

Dalton was covered like grass on a snowy day and Nate Swofford got inside once but didn’t find the steel again until the fourth quarter. 

This left Mendel, a player the Jackets didn’t know well, able to get inside and up to the bucket drawing the and-one on his first attempt. Unfortunately, he didn’t hit the free point, but he did well in getting the Bears on top before the buzzer earning him a spot next to Evans who was Friday’s unsung hero.

Nothing but net…

Just not the way you may think. The Bears came up empty in the third with nothing on the book from regular game play. Luckily Lebanon was fouling – 13 in the second half – and allowed five trips to the charity stripe for the Bears. 

Just as the opponent did yesterday, they were fouling the wrong guy. Dalton took yet another team to the stripe, shooting for eight points in Saturday’s contest. Six of those shots were in the third in addition to singles from Gillies and Bruce.

The lack of buckets didn’t hurt, but it didn’t help either. That would change drastically in the fourth. 

Out of gas

Three challenging games in three days means a lot of wear on young bodies and they can’t be faulted for Saturday. 

The Yellow Jackets opened the throttle with pressure on both ends of the court for a 20-14 fourth which opened-up the game to ten at one point, a deficit the Bears just couldn’t afford nor make up. 

The Bears shot a .696 Saturday and missed seven at the stripe which could have helped keep them in the contest. The larger schools with deep, all-varsity rosters just had more juice to keep going after Ava had to play two extra periods less than a day prior.

Kaden Bruce came up with one shot from the top of the key for three, but the rest of the offense couldn’t get open even when Donley was in play. 

The Bears fall to 7-3 overall this season and will have the week to recover before resuming play in 2020 against Hollister at home on January 10th.

Ava High School senior Jacob Gillies (11) attempts a layup over Hillcrest defender Jordan Leed during a consolation-bracket game at the 2019 Blue and Gold Tournament at the Hammons Student Center on the Missouri State University campus on Friday, December 27, 2019, in Springfield, Missouri. (Jason Hoekema/Herald)

Ava High School sophomore Kaden Bruce (23) keeps Lebanon defender Bryson Crowell at arm’s length as he attempts to penetrate the defense out of the wing during a third-round semifinal game at the 2019 Blue and Gold Tournament on Saturday, December 28, 2019, in the Hammons Student Center at the Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. (Jason Hoekema/Herald)

Ava High School senior Nate Swofford (5) dribbles past Willard defender Caden Mowell during a first-round game at the 2019 Blue and Gold Tournament on Thursday, December 26, 2019, inside the Hammons Student Center at the Missouri. State University campus in Springfield, Missouri. (Jason Hoekema/Herald)