Loeffler's Link

Feb. 28, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. --- There are upsets, then there are upsets.

This wasn't much of one.

Then again, how it played out could be considered an upset, because this time, the Jefferson City Jays won it down the stretch, they didn't lose it.

In a season full of blown leads and near misses, Kamari Bolton made sure of it.

The talented 6-1 senior scored 13 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday night as the fourth-seeded Jays --- in a district that has four teams --- 'upset' the top-seeded Troy Trojans 59-51 in the semifinals of the Class 5 District 9 Tournament at Fleming Fieldhouse.

This district certainly has balance ... which is not to say it's great balance. After this result, none of the teams are above .500, as top-seeded Troy ends its season at 11-12.

But at this point, it doesn't matter.

"We've been in every game this season besides one (a 20-point loss to Glendale), and a lot of the times we've had trouble closing the deal," Jays coach Blair Thompson said. "But tonight, we did a good job of closing the game, handling the ball and making free throws, and that's what it takes to win these type of games.

"We've been through a couple of tough stretches this year, so to get a win and give ourselves a chance to play for a district championship, I'm happy for these guys. They deserve it. "

Balton is one of three seniors on this team and for those guys, their next loss will be their last game. He certainly didn't want Tuesday night to be it.

"You see it a lot of time with seniors," Thompson said. "Their backs are against the wall and if they don't bring it, it will be the last time they put on the uniform. You can't let it change your whole mentality, but you definitely shift gears. He found another one tonight and he'll have to reach in the bag and do it again Thursday night."

Two years ago when Balton was a sophomore, his true coming-out party came down the stretch of the district championship game against Waynesville. He scored seven points in the final minute of that one --- and the Jays won by two.

And that's when the Jays had a guy named O.G. Anunoby.

"He's fearless, he's always played like that," Thompson said of Balton. "He did it again tonight and we needed all of it. He's been a solid player for three years and we rely on him for a lot of things."

The Jays (10-15) tried to get away early from the Trojans, building a seven-point lead in the first quarter, before settling for a 13-12 lead after one. After getting knocked into a 22-17 hole, the Jays finished the half with a 12-3 spree to take a 29-25 lead at the break --- and they had a four-point lead despite missing nine straight 3-pointers at one point against Troy's packed-in zone defense.

A 3-pointer late in the third quarter by Ryan Nilges gave the Jays a 38-34 edge entering the fourth. Jefferson City then used a 7-0 run, with five of those points coming from Balton, to build a seemingly comfortable 45-34 lead with 6 minutes left.

Instead of being comfortable, however, it was time for fans to hold their breath. And after the Trojans scored eight straight points to make it 45-42 at the four-minute mark, fans had to think ... here we go again.

But not this time.

Balton hit a 3-pointer and scored seven points during an 11-4-answer to make it 56-46 with 70 seconds left, and it was over.

"It was players making plays," Thompson said. "They were in the right spots and made good decisions and finished when they needed to."

This result creates a Jefferson City district championship doubleheader Thursday night, starting when the top-seeded and fourth-ranked Lady Jays (23-3) --- the only team in this district with a winning record, boys or girls --- meeting Holt (12-13) at 5 p.m. The Jays will play Battle (11-15) at 7 p.m.

Battle, which advanced with a 69-54 win over Holt, beat Jefferson City 72-64 on Feb. 10 in Columbia. 

"We'll take our chances here in front of our fans --- it should be a great atmosphere," Thompson said. "Guys have put in a lot of work year-round for this chance, so I'm excited for them.

"We're hoping to get a big crowd and another good effort from our guys."

Tuesday night might be the start of a surprising late-season surge by the Jays. Then again, this has been a season of false starts, so we'll see.

"All we've been talking about is playing together," Thompson said, "and we've been doing a better job of that. We put together some great practices last week. We lost at Rockhurst (on Friday) --- we had a shot to win --- but all in all, we've been playing well.

"I think we've definitely taken a step forward in the last week --- better late than never, I guess. It's just a matter of getting over the hump.

Perhaps the Jays should look at this district as camel --- and it's not the best-looking camel around, at that.

One hump down, one hump to go.

Jays 'upset' top-seeded Trojans,

advance to district title game

Jefferson City's Kamari Balton (25, right) splashes home a key 3-pointer during the fourth quarter of Tuesday night's district semifinal game with Troy at Fleming Fieldhouse.

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