The Blue Division portion of the 67th annual Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament was in danger of having Nixa cruise through it without an interesting storyline.
But the result of Friday’s second semifinal game provided fans with a reason to watch today’s 6 p.m. final with interest.
That’s because Christian County rivals Nixa and Ozark will meet in the final for the first time in tournament history.
Ozark ensured the rivals would meet with a tense 59-58 victory over Mount Vernon, after Zane Phillips’ 3-pointer was short at the buzzer.
Nixa and Ozark have combined for 30 appearances in Blue and Gold finals, and JQH will surely have a Christian County feel today.
“We looked at the bracket before, and this is the game we wanted to play,” Ozark senior Brett Krisik said. “We really want to play Nixa in the final, in a big arena, with all these people. It will be a great environment.”
Ozark (7-4) could not put Mount Vernon away, despite shooting 5-for-10 (50 percent) from 3-point range before halftime.
Then, when the shooting went cold after halftime, Ozark’s best player asserted himself after a tough first half to take control.
The 6-foot-7 Krisik was frustrated early with the traffic at the high post, so he went to the rim after rebounds.
Despite registering his fourth foul early in the fourth quarter, Krisik grabbed seven rebounds in the fourth, including five on the offensive glass.
“We were on him about how he wasn’t playing the best defense, then he got the four fouls,” Ozark coach Steve Hunter said. “Then, obviously he played his best basketball after that.”
Krisik finished with a game-high 17 points and eight boards. His fourth put-back of the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winner with 1:12 remaining.
“I was playing aggressive because even if I went out, we had guys that could come in and take my spot, because I really wasn’t doing much,” Krisik said.
Mount Vernon (8-4) then missed a couple of shots, and Ozark missed the front end of a one-and-one.
The Mountaineers couldn’t get a shot off until an Ozark foul gave Mount Vernon the ball under their own basket with 1.6 seconds left.
After a timeout, Ozark collapsed under the basket, but Phillips was open on the right wing. Ozark nearly forced a five-second violation, but Phillips had an open look.
“That’s a situation where I probably shouldn’t have left a timeout on the table,” Mount Vernon coach Skip Brock said. “But just credit Ozark. That was a great defensive stand.”
“It’s a great opportunity for a Class 3 team to have a chance like that. We feel really good about where we’re headed, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
The Mountaineers will play West Plains at 3 p.m. in today’s third-place game.