Ozark and Fair Grove came down to a final shot and a loose ball, and Ozark took control of the Spalding just in time.
Ozark (6-3) held on to beat Fair Grove 55-53 to survive and advance to the semifinals of the Gold Division of the 71st annual Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament in a squeaker Tuesday night at JQH Arena. Junior guard Parker Hanks put up 12 points, but it was his final basket on a driving layup that proved enough for Mark Schweitzer’s Tigers to win.
“(Hanks) didn’t have a very great game for his standards and my standards, so I thought it showed a lot of competitiveness, a lot of grit for him to stick with it like that. He’s not scared of that moment, he’s not scared of that shot,” Schweitzer said.
With 30 seconds remaining, Fair Grove (8-2) got a look at a game-winning 3-pointer, which triggered a scramble for the ball.
“It was a free for all for that ball. It was a loose ball and we went after it and got it, and we were very fortunate. We do that all the time in practice,” Schweitzer said.
Ozark junior Payton Nichols got hot to close off a seven-point Fair Grove lead. Nichols scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half. Junior forward Quinn Nelson also had 14 points to lead Ozark.
Fair Grove outscored Ozark 22-11 in the third quarter, which proved to be a point of frustration for Schweitzer.
“We kept trying to do individual things, like ‘I’m the guy that’s going to pull our team out of this funk,’ and it looked awful and sloppy instead of working together as a team,” Schweitzer said.
Ozark answered by outscoring the Eagles 17-8 in the final period. Fair Grove coach Tim Brown believes the Tigers won the game at the stripe.
“We had the lead in the fourth quarter and we couldn’t step up and make free throws,” Brown said. “We did a lot of good things tonight and I felt like we got better.”
Eagles senior Garrett Kesterson started slow with four first-half points, but led all scorers in the game with 18 points.
“Kesterson—if he gets going, he’s hard to guard. He’s going to hit threes with you on him, he’s a great player, a great shooter,” Schweitzer said.
The Eagles also got 16 points from freshman David Oplotnik and 13 points from senior forward Evan Fullerton.
Ozark advances to meet No. 1 seed Nixa (7-0) in the Gold Division semifinals at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the latest chapter of Christian County’s ultimate sports rivalry.
“Nixa vs. Ozark is magnified, it always is. The bottom line is, they’ve got a good thing going over there and they’re hard to beat,” Schweitzer said. “We’re going to have to bring it. I don’t think my kids are shy of it.”
Fair Grove, a 2016 Class 3 state playoff quarterfinalist, will take on Greenwood at 7 p.m. in the consolation rounds.
“We’re going to see how tough we are the rest of the tournament and see how we can bounce back from a little adversity,” Brown said. “It’s as valuable as we’ll allow it to be. If we’re tough, it will be real valuable. We’ll grow up and we’ll get more chances.”
Ozark 55, Fair Grove 53
Fair Grove 8-15-22-8—53
Ozark—Quinn Nelson 14, Payton Nichols 14, Parker Hanks 12, Noah Suiter 9, Carter Burgess 4, Will Pickering 2
Fair Grove—Garrett Kesterson 18, David Oplotnik 16, Evan Fullerton 13, Steven Huskey 3, Cole Gilpin 2, Garrett Potter 1