However long it had been, it had been long enough for the Ozark Tigers.
Almost four years to the day since the last time they beat their Christian County rivals, the Tigers did it again Tuesday, climbing out of a 15-2 hole to beat a short-handed Nixa team, 74-68.
It was the first win over the Eagles for Ozark’s seniors, who along with their coach, couldn’t remember the last time Ozark came out on top in the Highway 14 rivalry.
“I started to look back and I thought ‘no, it’s been too long, I’m not even going to talk to (the players) about it,’ ” Hunter said of the last Tigers win.
“Not since I’ve been in high school at least,” senior Jakob Neidig said. “It feels amazing. I wouldn’t want to go out as a senior any other way.”
For the record, the last Ozark win in the series came Feb. 10, 2009, when this year’s seniors were in eighth grade.
Since then Nixa, led by a senior class that featured Austin Ruder and Jalen Norman, had won five games in a row.
But the Eagles (18-5) were without Norman and 6-foot-7 sophomore starter Jacob Ruder Tuesday as both sat on the bench with injuries.
And Ozark (13-10) was able to take advantage.
“We didn’t want to get stomped by Nixa at home, especially with them missing two starters,” Ozark senior Brett Krisik said. “This was one of our last times playing them, and it was at home, so we had to take advantage.”
But Nixa nearly put the game away in the opening minutes. Bryce Dulin grabbed the opening tip and drove baseline for a one-handed jam six seconds into the game, Austin Ruder hit a 3-pointer on the Eagles’ next possession, and the Eagles were off and running on a 15-2 spurt to open the game.
The Tigers eventually recovered.
“Typically in the past we’ve buckled in situations like that,” Neidig said. “But we’ve come a long way over the year. We’re mentally tougher. And the rivalry brings out the best in everyone.”
Neidig had 15 points and six rebounds, one of four Tigers in double figures.
But it was Krisik who starred, just as he did last season when he scored 25 points in a loss to the Eagles.
The 6-foot-6 senior finished with 21 points, including 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions after Nixa had cut a 10-point Ozark lead to one late in the game.
“Guys who want the ball in their hands, who want to shoot the ball when the game is on the line, you want those guys,” Hunter said. “I was about ready to choke him because he made a couple bonehead plays earlier, but those were two big threes.”
Austin Ruder scored 22 points to lead Nixa while Dulin finished with 18 points and five rebounds. Chris Bettis, who transferred from Ozark to Nixa before the start of the season, had 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds while starting in place of the injured Ruder.
But seven first-quarter turnovers stalled Nixa’s momentum, and allowed Ozark to find its footing.
“We’re about ready to run away with it and we let them right back in it with turnovers,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne said. “Then at the end of the third quarter we did the same thing. You’re not going to win anything doing stuff like that.”
After its early run, Nixa saw Ozark end the first quarter with a 10-0 run of its own. The Eagles led 38-31 midway through the third quarter before Ozark went on a 23-6 run that stretched into the fourth period and put the Tigers up 54-44.
“All year long we’ve been up and down. We’d get in games like this and kind of buckle,” Hunter said. “But tonight we got back in.”