'Cats foil Falcons' plans in district semifinal
By JOSH KING / Daily News Sports Editor
JOPLIN -- Bitten. "Cat-bitten.Coming into Thursday night, Glendale had lost three of its last four encounters with Neosho, including this season's lone meeting despite home-court advantage. Still, the mighty, third-ranked Falcons entered this night's Class 4A District 12 semifinal with an agenda that slighted their troublesome foe: Arrangements had been made for the district final to be played at SMSU if the favored teams (Glendale and second-ranked Kickapoo) made it an all-Springfield final. But sometimes the best-laid plans ....The overlooked Wildcats (22-5) brought down Glendale (21-5), yet again, by a 67-60 score, setting up a Joplin-hosted championship game with Kickapoo (26-1), which destroyed Joplin 98-49 in the evening's other semifinal."It definitely was a business-like approach tonight," said Neosho Head Coach Denny Chenoweth about his squad's victorious effort. "They knew that they had a tremendously tough assignment ahead of them and man did they ever come through."The Wildcats took charge right away scoring eight of the game's first 10 points and establishing a 14-point lead on one occasion in the opening half. Neosho trailed only twice -- both times by a single point and within a 50-second span midway through the final period. Still, it took free throws down the stretch to seal the deal.Senior Michael Anders refused to let his Neosho career come to a close, leading the Wildcats to victory with a 16-point, eight-rebound performance."You can't say enough about the job that Michael Anders did," said Chenoweth about his six-foot center. "I told him before the game, "You're going to have to get on the boards tough for us,' and I think the words that he gave back to me were, "Coach I'm going to be Mr. Glass tonight.' And he definitely was that. He got up and did a tremendous job."Anders did the bulk of his production starting in the second quarter, after two fouls in the opening 94 seconds landed him on the bench in the first period. Still, he garnered seven points and four rebounds in the first half, helping the Wildcats into the break with a 32-29 lead despite 8-of-9, second-period shooting on the part of Glendale.The Falcons scored four of the first five points out of the locker room, giving the game its first tie at 32-32. But Neosho responded with nine unanswered, including two buckets by Anders and a three-pointer by Jon Branscum.The Wildcats would maintain the edge until a 9-0 Glendale run gave the Falcons a 51-50 lead with 5:14 to play. However, Neosho promptly regained the lead on the ensuing possession when Anders put back an offensive rebound.The Falcons followed with two foul shots to go up for the final time, 53-52, at the 4:25 mark. Then, after Trent Barratt's free throw tied the game, Anders gave the Wildcats the lead for good, scoring inside on a set play out of a timeout.Neosho's Travis Wilfong and Barratt registered key baskets down the stretch to preserve the lead, and then Wilfong, Tyler Chaney, Barratt and Branscum hit eight of 12 free throws in the final minute to ice the victory.Chaney fueled the Wildcats with 14 points and was particularly instrumental early. The 6-4 junior scored 10 (two treys included) in the first quarter, pushing Neosho out to a 20-9 lead in the period."Obviously Tyler got off well and got us a good start," said the Neosho coach.Chaney had to sit much of the second half after picking up his fourth foul with 3:08 to play in the third quarter.Wilfong, who also hit two three-pointers in the first half, scored 13 and was 4-for-4 from the foul line in the final 43.6 seconds.Chaney and Wilfong also bolstered the rebounding effort with seven and six boards respectively.Branscum, another two-trey contributor, finished with nine points and paced the defense with three steals. His junior classmate, Barratt, supplied eight points and six assists.Neosho's Evan Griffith and Michael Daugherty scored five and two respectively off the bench. Griffith nailed a three-pointer just ahead of the third-quarter buzzer to give the "Cats a 49-38 buffer.All but 12 of Glendale's points came from two players. Jason Bueker, a 6-5 swingman, provided 23 points and 10 rebounds, while gunner Ryan Luethy fired in 25 points, including five treys, before fouling out with 32 seconds to play. The duo combined for the sum of the Falcons' first-half scoring.The Wildcats will now look to complete a sweep of the district's Springfield schools (Neosho's first round win came at the expense of Parkview) Saturday against Kickapoo. But without question, a third Neosho win presents the greatest challenge."They've just got so much talent with their quickness, with their height, with their shooting ability," said Chenoweth about Kickapoo. "They play extremely hard. They play extremely well."Still, the Chiefs' lone loss came against a squad now twice-beaten by Neosho. Glendale split games with Kickapoo on the season, first winning 66-63 at Kickapoo and then losing 50-43 before 6,458 fans at SMSU's Hammons Student Center.The Chiefs did come to Neosho back on Jan. 15 and left with 79-69 win behind 30 points by three-point artist Spencer Laurie. The Wildcats received 33 points from Tyler Chaney, but largely the team struggled to get off shots against Kickapoo, which outsizes Neosho at every position."Our kids know that we played them to a 10-point game the first time and didn't play as well as we could have played, so I know that they're looking forward to the challenge on Saturday," said Chenoweth.Neosho fans, who were praised by the Neosho coach for their making Kaminsky Gymnasium an anti-Springfield environment Thursday night, will have to make it to Joplin early on Saturday. The gates will open at noon for the 1 p.m. game and only the first 2,000 fans will be admitted.