Perhaps the Republic High School basketball team just wanted to give Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament fans a good finish.
The Tigers took their foot off the gas a little early Friday night at Hammons Student Center but still survived to bounce Branson, 58-55.
The win gives Republic (9-1) a shot at its second straight Gold Division title at 6:30 p.m. today at JQH Arena against top-seeded Parkview.
Branson (6-4) is led by its backcourt of Da’Quan Ervin and Thatch Unruh. For much of the semifinal game, the pair could not get it going offensively.
Ervin was brilliant in a second-round win against Willard, but could not get Branson going as effectively this time around.
In addition to his game-high 17 points, Republic junior Dylan Bekemeier covered Ervin for much of the game.
“I was just watching his waist,” said Bekemeier, a state-champion golfer. “I had a lot more confidence tonight than I had in awhile. I’ve kind of been settling into the varsity spot. It’s been an adjustment. I’ve gotten through a lot of tough games, but they just started falling tonight.”
Ervin had four points after three quarters and Unruh was scoreless. However, the guards ignited a fourth-quarter surge, combining for 17 points as Branson climbed all the way back.
Republic led by as many as 13 points in the fourth, but after Republic coach Trevyor Fisher told his team to start running some clock, the Tigers took the strategy a little too far.
“I’ll take the blame for that,” Fisher said. “I wanted patience, but not the extent we were: Not looking at the basket. But we have to learn from that.”
Branson coach Brian McTague harkened back to a drill his team does at practice where three defenders have to at least deflect a pass against four offensive players to end the drill.
“It’s hard to play keep-away for 5 minutes,” McTague said. “We felt very confident that we could cause them some problems as long as we didn’t put them on the free-throw line.”
The Pirates did not foul and surged back, as an 8-1 run capped by a Kendall Willard basket gave the Pirates a 53-52 lead with 1:16 to play.
The teams would trade the lead four times in 39 seconds, but a Cody Geiger layup with 37.8 seconds proved to be the game-winner for Republic.
After two Jake Fletcher free throws, Ervin misfired on a 3 and the Tigers moved on.
Bekemeier echoed the thoughts of many in the area recently, saying the Tigers had something to prove because of feeling slighted by the seeding committee, which gave Parkview the nod at No. 1 over the Tigers.
“It was just kind of a kick in the mouth saying that they’re better than you and they’re going to win it,” Bekemeier said. “So we just want to prove that it’s not going to happen.”