(Photos by Chris Pobst, Staff)
WEST PLAINS -- It seems that the Scott County Central Braves (27-2) have made a habit of opening the first quarter with a very quick lead throughout the season. At the West Plains Civic Center on Saturday, the Braves did just that to put away the Chadwick Cardinals, 98-73, in the Class 1, quarterfinal round to advance to their first final four appearance since 1994.
"They were tough," Braves head coach Ronnie Cookson said. "And if anybody thinks I'm making fun of them, they're crazy; they're tough. They got a real good ball club. They're fundamentally sound."
Scott Central opened the first with a 3-point play by 6-0 junior Drew Thomas after only 12 seconds had run off the clock. That sparked an 11-0 run in the first three minutes of the quarter, until Nathan Hale put Chadwick on the board for the first time at the 4:50 mark.
Thomas scored the first seven points of the game and 11 of the first 15 for the Braves as they went on the take a 24-12 lead at the end of the first quarter. Thomas finished the first quarter with 15 points.
A 3-pointer by Shaun Thomas within the closing seconds of the first half cut the Scott Central lead to 19 points with a score of 54-35 at halftime.
Another run by Chadwick would occur during the third quarter when they brought the Braves lead to within 11 points. The Cardinals outscored Scott Central 18-10 through the first five minutes of the second half, including a 10-2 run that would cut it to 11 points. Another basket by Shaun Thomas with 3:09 left to go made it a 64-53 game.
"Scott County was at least concerned about us," Cardinals head coach Terry Jester said about the third quarter comeback. "I could see on their faces. When we cut it to 11, they knew they were in a game. We just started playing a little harder and got a little confidence. We started making a few shots too, that always helps."
As they started to climb their way back into the game, the Cardinals seemed to always be halted by a nifty pass from sophomore guard Bobby Hatchett, who found an open player who then scored. Hatchett, who finished with only two points, helped in a bigger way with nine assists on the night and most of them came in the third quarter.
"They started to come back on us," Cookson said. "But, he (Hatchett) made a good pass. He didn't do a lot of scoring, but he made a good pass."
Chadwick could only muster up six more points after that as the Braves would extend their lead to 17 points to take a 76-59 advantage going into the final quarter.
The Braves continued to increase their lead during the fourth quarter as they outscored the Cardinals 22-14 throughout to move on to the Class 1 semi-
"I think we played alright," Braves senior Caleb Johnson said, who finished with 26 points and nine rebounds. "They (Chadwick) work hard. We got up by about 15 or 20 there at one point. But, they would cut the lead back so we had to put them away at the end."
Drew Thomas ended up with a game-high 32 points while also recording five rebounds and two steals. Thomas said that some little things they did wrong during their 25-point win is simply not good enough for what they have ahead of them.
"To be honest, I think we didn't play good enough," said Thomas. "We didn't get enough turnovers off our press, we weren't penetrating right and we weren't rebounding well. We were letting the high-post get the ball a little too much and we wasn't on the defensive glass a lot this time. But, we going to try to improve on that."
Scott Central had three players with at least 20 points on the night, with the third being 6-2 freshman Otto Porter. "Bubba", as most people call him, finished up with 20 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.
"Bubba, he played well," Cookson said. "He did what he was supposed to do. He missed a lot of easy shots. But, besides that, he played well."
Senior guard D.D. Gillespie, who hit the Braves only 3-pointer of the game, finished with 15 points, three assists and three steals.
The Scott Central Braves will now head to the final four in Columbia for the 14th time in school history to try and bring back another state championship title to add to their record of 12.
Standing in their way in the first round is the Jefferson Eagles. The Eagles (27-2) have won the last two state championships and spent most of the season as the number one ranked team in Class 1.
"It's an honor to play," Thomas said. "We got a big game ahead of us against the number one team in Class 1. We just got to come out and play hard."