Falcons may be flying
under radar, but

they're No. 1 where

it counts the most

Loeffler's Link

Above, senior Spencer Taggart (13) hugs Sam Stichnote after the sophomore sank the game-winning shot with 1 second left Thursday night. At left, Eagles coach Andy Jahnsen and Southern Boone players watch the final, desperation shot by Tolton's Isaiah Wilson bounce off the rafters.

Eagles edge Blazers in thriller,

​will meet Falcons for district title

For questions, comments or story ideas, contact Tom at loefflerslink@hotmail.com.

WARDSVILLE, Mo. --- Is this what you expected?

Probably not.

Because this was more than you could have asked for. When this affair wasn't great, it was superb.

With these seasons on the line --- not to mention the high school careers of 10 seniors --- it was a sophomore who delivered the difference-making knockout blow.

Sam Stichnote sank a short, running jumper with one second left as the Southern Boone Eagles edged the Father Tolton Trailblazers 53-51 in a Class 3 District 9 semifinal thriller Thursday night at Blair Oaks.

It's why we love sports, games like this.

Instant classic.

"I don't even have words to describe it right now," Eagles coach Andy Jahnsen said. "This is just a monumental win against a great program --- it's one of those games I'll never forget.

"This was a huge hurdle for us, because they're a great basketball team."

Great? Maybe. But at least they weren't unbeatable.

This brilliant bout would not have been possible if not for the Porters moving to Seattle, and taking 6-foot-9 Michael and 6-foot-10 Jontay with them. Because nobody in this district would have had a chance --- and you could basically say the same thing for every other Class 3 team in the state.

The Eagles only lost three games last season, but two of them were to the Porters --one in those coming in the district finals. Not to Tolton, but to the Porters ... they just happened to be wearing Tolton uniforms.

"They beat us last year, twice, and we'd had one of the best seasons in school history," said an emotional Jahnsen, who was fighting back tears after the game. "It was really hard to swallow, to walk in the locker room that night and tell my kids their season was over, because they just lost to the state champions.

"This is a big step for our kids, just because of the mental block. I told them before (Thursday night's) game that I'm not coming in this locker room and saying good-bye. You will your way to it, I don't care how you do it, but find a way.

"They had the will and found a way and made it a reality."

To be sure, this was a fun way to make it a reality.

The second-seeded and third-ranked Eagles (24-3) used a 9-0 run late in the first quarter to take a 16-14 lead into the second, before the third-seeded and defending state champion Blazers (15-10) scored the last five points of the first half to assume a 26-23 lead. The opening half featured seven lead changes and five ties, but it only served as the appetizer for the main course.

Tolton took charge with a 13-5 surge to start the third quarter and build a 39-28 lead, with all 13 points coming from senior Isaiah Wilson (five of his game-high 22 points) and sophomore Beau Washer (eight of his 17).

The Eagles, however, didn't blink.

"They never quit believing," Jahnsen said. "I looked in their eyes and asked them if they were done and they said, 'Absolutely not.'

"We had to claw all the way back ... we worked so hard to get to that point. I'm just super proud of our boys --- I'm emotional, and I'm never emotional."

Down 11, Southern Boone responded by scoring on six of its final seven possessions in the third quarter to key an 11-2 run and close the gap to 41-39 entering the fourth. Of those six scores, all of them came from point-blank range, most of them uncontested.

"They were covering us up on the perimeter, we really didn't have any outside looks," Jahnsen said. "So we talked at halftime about attacking the rim, being a little more patient and valuing the ball.

"We really just changed our game plan, we tried to get to the rim, started attacking from different angles, and they kind of backed away from us."

A three-point play with 4:15 left by Zane Safely, who finished with 14 points, gave the Eagles a 46-45 lead, which was their first lead since late in the first half. That would also be the first of five lead changes down the stretch.

With it tied 49-49 with 29 seconds left, a Maguire Scheer steal led to a fastbreak chance, which led to a foul. The senior made both free throws, but Washer returned the favor with two free throws with 15 seconds left to make it 51-51.

Four big shots, nothing but net. One more big shot was coming.

"We were in a great situation, we had the ball last," Jahnsen said. "I told the kids we didn't want to attack until 6 seconds left, I did not want them to have another chance.

"I just wanted to win it, I didn't want it to go to overtime, I didn't want anything else, at that point."

With a roster stacked with eight seniors, the ball ended up in the hands of Stichnote, who finished with 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. He drove the lane and drained the 5-foot jumper to make it 53-51.

Go crazy folks, go crazy.

"He's a competitor, he makes big plays at big moments," Jahnsen said. "He does everything right.

The Blazers had one last chance, but it ended up having no chance --- Wilson's desperation three-quarter court heave clanked off the ceiling.

"Luckily," Jahnsen said, "that ball hit the rafters and had no prayer of going in."


LUCKY FOR ALL US, WE'LL BE SERVED Round 3 in another rivalry game --- Blair Oaks vs. Southern Boone for the district championship at 7 p.m. Saturday.

In Thursday night's nightcap, the Falcons broke open a tight game by outscoring the Hermann Bearcats 21-10 in the fourth quarter to secure a 63-52 win, setting up the rubber match between Blair Oaks and Southern Boone.

The Eagles won Round 1, a dramatic 68-67 decision in the championship game of the Tri-County Tournament in early January. The Falcons returned the favor --- and then some --- with a 65-52 triumph in the rematch in late January.

For most of Thursday night's second semifinal, however, you had to wonder if Round 3 would even happen.

The fifth-seeded Bearcats (19-8) stood toe-to-toe with the No. 1 seed and eighth-ranked Falcons (23-4) most of the way. Hermann held leads of 17-16 after one quarter and 29-28 at the half, before Blair Oaks pulled even at 42-42 entering the fourth.

But the Falcons flexed their muscles --- namely, their senior muscles --- in the fourth quarter, when all 21 points were scored by four seniors. Blair Oaks opened the frame with an 8-0 run, started on a 3-pointer by Thomas Verslues and ended on a two-handed fastbreak jam by Dylan Skinner, to take a 50-42 lead.

Hermann tried to hang around, but didn't make a serious move the rest of the way.

Senor Matthew Wade paced the gritty Bearcats with 20 points, senior Trey McKague scored 13 and senor Matthew Heidger had 10.

For Blair Oaks, Verslues tallied 20 points, giving him 38 in the two district games. Skinner added 14 and Jason Rackers chipped in 13.

What a night it was. And if this were any indication --- not to mention the first two meetings between Southern Boone and Blair Oaks --- it should be a Saturday Night Special, indeed.