Finishing in style: Hornets finish
third in Class 1 state tourney

St. Elizabeth's Brady Heckemeyer (34) tries to put up a shot over Chadley Waltz of Linn County during Saturday's Class 1 third-place game in Springfield.

Loeffler's Link

Youth is served:
Young Hornets meet
younger Falcons
in Class 1 semifinals

Chris Leuckel

March 9, 2019

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. --- A lot of coaches consider third-place games as necessary as a candidates' debate the day after the election.

Or, as exciting and edgy as cottage cheese.

Dillon Tenholder isn't one of them.

"I like them --- they are tough to play in, they're tough to get up for, but I like that the players get that extra experience," the St. Elizabeth coach said after the Hornets knocked off Linn County 66-61 in the Class 1 third-place game Saturday at JQH Arena.

"If you look at a game like we had Friday ... such a great game. It's nice to come back and play again where you can end your season on a high note."

Smiles sure beat heartbreak. And that's where we'll start, with Friday's semifinal game against Dora.

An instant classic, an 80-71 win for the Dora Falcons in overtime.

Obviously, one team was going to end up with fewer points than the other, but both teams were winners on this day.

"It was amazing," Tenholder said. "Like I told our guys, you take out the fact we lost, and that was just a phenomenal basketball game in a phenomenal atmosphere.

"You can't get any better than what happened in that game."

This was an extremely high-level affair, with young men stepping up and making plays time after time in crucial situations. Of the numerous big moments, we'll concentrate on three.

FIRST, the Hornets leading scorer and rebounder, 6-8 junior Ross Struemph, was strapped with foul trouble the entire game. He picked up his third foul just 70 seconds into the second quarter and sat the rest of the half, but the No. 8 Hornets were still within 35-27 of the No. 1 Falcons at the half.

"Ross being in foul trouble was big," Tenholder said. "But in those situations, you can't fret about it, you just have to adjust.

Having said that ...

"Not having him in there," Tenholder continued, "changes what we do in so many ways."

Struemph picked up his fourth foul with 2:45 left in the third quarter. Replays clearly showed that it wasn't Struemph, but Brady Heckemeyer, who committed the foul on Isaac Heney.

Struemph didn't touch him.

"Ross wasn't in the lane, the foul was on Brady," Tenholder said. "I tried to tell them (the officials) that, but they told me they had the right guy. At that point, I didn't have much of an argument."

SECOND, Struemph's replacement, 6-3 sophomore Carson Kesel, was admirable coming off the bench --- three 3-pointers and 11 points in 11 minutes.

"Carson came off the bench and hit some huge 3s," Tenholder said. "He helped keep us in the game."

As did 5-10 junior Coltin Green, who normally toils in the shadows of Struemph and the Heckemeyers. But he was clutch when the Hornets seemed to need him most, hitting four 3-pointers and 6-of-10 overall and scoring a team-high 18 points, twice his average.

"Coltin just doesn't get enough credit," Tenholder said. "He's just been phenomenal for us all year."

After the Falcons had opened up a 41-31 early in the third quarter --- and seemed poised to land the knockout blow --- Green scored five points in 10 seconds to keep the Hornets in it.

3-pointer, steal, layup ... and 41-31 turned to 41-36 in a blink.

"That sums up the type of player he is, that little sequence right there," Tenholder said.

THIRD, and after the Hornets sent the game to overtime tied at 69-69, there was another sequence that helped doom St. Elizabeth.

With the Falcons leading 71-69, the Hornets had three point-blank chances to tie it from short range. Instead, missed shot, rebound, missed shot, rebound, missed shot.

The last miss led to a fastbreak by the Falcons to make it a 73-69 lead, and Dora was on its way to the nine-point win and the state championship game.

(Dora had its own heartbreak Saturday night, as the Falcons fell 75-65 to Jefferson (Conception) in the title game.)

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

THE DREAM THE HORNETS  AND THEIR FANS had had for months, if not years, was gone. But less than 24 hours later, it was time to play again.

"You're trying to play for a state title and it doesn't work out, and you have to re-set and re-focus pretty quick," Tenholder said. "If you don't, it came be a rough game."

There actually is something to play for --- third is better than fourth, after all. This game is about finishing in style, but more than anything, it's about character.

The Hornets (24-6) flew from the gates against the unranked Mustangs (15-9), as they received 3-pointers from Struemph and Brock Lucas, along with a three-point play from Struemph, to bolt to an 11-0 lead in the opening two minutes.

"I didn't quite expect for us to come out like that, I figured there would be some fatigue and some letdown --- which there was," Tenholder said. "It just didn't happen until the second and third quarters."

Linn County was within 35-25 at the break, before outscoring St. Elizabeth 20-7 in the third to take a 45-42 entering the fourth.

"Even when we got down," Tenholder said, "they didn't panic, they continued to execute. They stuck together at the end and did the little things right."

While outscoring the Mustangs 24-16 in the final frame, the Hornets took the lead for good at 58-57 with two minutes left on a jumper by Struemph, who rolled up game-high totals of 22 points and 18 rebounds.

"I'm so proud of where they came from the start of the year to where we ended up," Tenholder said. "They should be proud of what they accomplished.

"We had all kinds of early injuries when we were just trying to get into a rhythm, then we had our daunting January schedule. But that helped us grow, tremendously, and they just started taking off from there.

"I'm so thankful for the fan support, the community support, and our players appreciate all of that. They deserved it, the amount of work they've put in."

What a great ride this season was. Lastly ...

Don't be surprised if it happens again next season.

Frustrating finish to
a fabulous season:
Irish ousts Falcons

Streaking Falcons fly
into Elite 8 to face
second-ranked Irish