Most of the accolades found their way to others. Chris Kendrix made sure of it.
After all, there was Willard’s Levi McGinnis with a fourth-quarter steal and layup to break a tie — and drama-filled — game. And there was Trayton Griffin, in the right place at the right time, grabbing a miss off the side of the backboard and laying the ball through the rim not long after.
“I’m just glad we all had the tranquility that we did, that peace and calmness,” Kendrix said. “Two years ago, we would have gotten sped up. We would have all put our heads down. We would have quit. I’m really proud of every single one of those players in there.”
The Missouri State signee, of course, was pointing to the Willard Tigers locker room, where a celebration was under way. The Willard Tigers won the Class 5 District 12 championship, beating the Parkview Vikings 37-31 on Thursday night in a game that seemed better suited for peach baskets.
Kendrix scored a team-high 13 points for Willard (21-6), which led only 15-6 at halftime thanks in part to its stubborn defense but also thanks to Parkview missing several close attempts.
Thus, with points at a premium, hustle plays became all the more magnified. Take McGinnis’ and Griffin’s.
J.T. Thompson’s 3-pointer early in the fourth forged a 23-all tie, and Parkview grabbed a defensive rebound at the other end.
Yet McGinnis picked Vikings point guard Jake Brown in a trap near half-court, raced in for the go-ahead layup, and Willard never trailed again.
From there, Griffin grabbed Skyler Baker’s miss and converted a traditional, three-point play to push the lead to 28-23.
Kendrix’s final bucket made it 30-26 with 2:38 left after Parkview pulled close on Autry Acord’s free throws.
“I thought if they ever took the lead, we were going to be in trouble from that standpoint,” Willard coach Lamont Frazier said, “just because of the possibility of them taking more air out of the ball.”
Said McGinnis, “We run, we sprint. That’s all we do. Our team is just really connected at the end on those hustle plays.”
Kendrix slammed home a Dr. J-like dunk in the first half but also keyed the defense as Willard advanced to a March 12 sectional at Southwest Baptist, against either Nixa or Kickapoo.
“He was the best player on the floor. Sometimes you have games where the best player doesn’t produce, say, statistically,” Frazier said. “But at the same time, it’s the presence — forcing other people to adjust. … I thought he played as smart a game as he could have played. He gave up himself.”
Acord’s 13 points led Parkview (14-12), which before halftime missed six open 3-pointers and saw 6-foot-8 junior Zach Cameron-Chodes miss three lay-ins right at the rim.
“We had plenty of open shots and we kind of let one slip through our fingers,” Parkview coach Bill Brown said. “We talked after the game about learning from it and coming back next year even stronger.”
Parkview girls 58, Willard 52
MSU recruit Aubry Buckley scored 17 points and the Parkview Lady Vikings weathered a ferocious Willard rally to win its second consecutive district championship.
Parkview led by 14 points early in the third quarter, but two starters, Tenaea Brown and Dazjah Bryant, sat for a good stretch after getting whistled for their fourth fouls.
Willard capitalized, pulling within 58-42 with 2:04 left and 54-50 with 89 seconds left, thanks to Shelby Barrett’s 3-pointer and her pair of free throws.
But Willard was empty on its next two possessions, including a turnover on a pass on a high-low play, and Buckley sunk two free throws with 43.1 seconds left to push the score to 56-50.
“We were used to it,” Buckley said of playing without key players.
“In practice, we do different scenarios, learn how to play with even myself out. … We’re a team full of athletes, and we can all get the job done.”
Mallory Kurtz (12) and Barrett (11) finished in double figures for Willard, which also got nine points from Ali Perry.