LEOPOLD -- Leopold stated their case.
Coming into Friday nights game against the Leopold Wildcats, the Risco Tigers recently had just been ranked No. 8 in Class 1 in this season's first Missouri state basketball poll. This was the first time in school history that a Risco team had ever been ranked.
Leopold was well aware.
"Coming in as eighth in state you think they're going to be pretty good so we didn't know what was going to happen," Leopold senior Larry Nussbaum said.
A packed house at Leopold High School saw their home team defeat the state-ranked Tigers in a close 66-59 battle with the help of another senior Darren VanGennip.
"They just outplayed us," Risco head coach Brandon Blankenship said. "(Darren) VanGennip was tough tonight, super tough. I guess he wasn't going to let us come into his house and beat them."
VanGennip finished with a game-high 31 points.
"I felt like he kind of put them on his back all night," Blankenship said about VanGennip. "[He] just does so much for them. We really made an effort to stay with him and just put a man in his face the whole time and he still hit tough shots."
Right from the start Leopold controlled the game. They broke out to a 17-6 lead with 2:30 left in the first quarter. They would end up leading the Tigers 19-10 after one. They pulled even further away in the second quarter by outscoring Risco 17-13 to take a 36-23 lead at the half.
VanGennip had already netted 18 points by then.
"They just came out hitting," Blankenship said. "They hit some tough shots. I felt like we were in their face on several of them. I didn't feel like we could buy a bucket in the first half."
But in the second half, Risco made their run.
The Tigers raced off to a 7-2 run that included a 3-pointer from Russ Carter to begin the third quarter to cut the deficit to eight points. It almost felt like the momentum was starting to shift in Risco's favor, but VanGennip countered the Tigers attack.
Just after Risco cut the lead to eight, VanGennip answered. Dillon Hill drained another three for the Tigers, but VanGennip answered. Dustin Thiele chimed in with a bucket for Leopold but Brandon Bennett sank yet another 3-pointer for the Tigers.
The Tigers never pulled to within more than seven points of the Wildcats in the third quarter despite outscoring them. VanGennip scored six points in the quarter which were all after big 3-pointers from the Tigers.
"Darren's a great competitor," Leopold head coach Shawn Kinder said. "That's one thing he strives on. I feel like our defense let down that third quarter which helped them get back into it a little bit. We did look to run Darren off some screens and get him some looks and it worked out to our advantage."
"I read my defender and I made the right cuts and I got my shots," VanGennip said about the third quarter.
Risco again tried to make a run in the fourth quarter but the closest they came to the Wildcats was five points.
Chris Williams was sent to the line with 51 seconds remaining in the game. He made his first, but missed his second. He was still able to grab the offensive rebound and score to make it a 62-57 game.
With a few clever passes down the court, the Wildcats answered with a bucket from David Fluchel with 34 seconds left to pretty much seal the game.
"I was pretty nervous because I had heard Risco was a pretty good team," VanGennip said. "They came out and played hard and played good but, we got our heads on and we played our game. I thought we took care of the ball fairly well and when we got fouled we hit our free throws. We got a couple breaks there at the end too. We got a couple layups and that kind of sealed it."
Nussbaum finished with 15 points and six rebounds while Thiele grabbed 12 rebounds and finished with four points.
Risco (8-2) was lead by Zack Williams' 19 points, nine rebounds and five steals. Bennett ended up with 15 points while Hill chipped in with 11.
When asked if being ranked puts a little bit more pressure on your team, Blankenship admitted that it did.
"To be honest it probably does," he said. "Especially being the first time ever. It puts a target on your back too. Especially for other [Class 1] schools. They see that and they're going to bring their A-game to try and knock you off."
Does Leopold (8-2) deserve to be ranked now?
"I think so," VanGennip said. "Because Risco is a pretty good team and I can see why they were ranked. I feel like we deserve to be in the rankings too."