When informed of his arrival in the school's 1,000 point club earlier this month, Maryville senior guard Jonathan Baker told head coach Mike Kuwitzky he wanted to be part of the equally exclusive district championship club.
On their final try, Baker and his three senior classmates gained admission with a thorough 63-40 beating of recent MEC and district nemesis Cameron in the finals of the Class 3 District 16 Tournament Saturday at Grace Gymnasium.
The Spoofhounds (20-7) led from wire-to-wire and were never remotely threatened at any point beyond the second quarter against the district's top-seeded team.
Up 25 points, Maryville emptied its bench with 1:23 left, at which point Kuwitzky acknowledged to Baker that he was now part of the club he longed to be in. The subject was brought up again during a celebratory post-game locker room talk.
"He told us after the game you're part of an elite group now," said Baker. "When you think about the history of Spoofhound basketball, us four seniors have been thinking about this for a long time. This is what we've been striving for, so it means a lot to us."
District champions in football each of the past five seasons, this was Maryville's first district title in basketball since 2009-2010 when Baker and fellow seniors Tyler Kenkel, Treyton Burch and Kyle Leslie were still freshmen.
Each of Maryville's last two district tournament appearances ended with losses to Cameron, first in the semifinals and then in the finals.
Last year's championship game loss weighed especially heavy on their minds since the Hounds gave up a double-digit second half lead.
"After losing last year to them how we did, that really hurt," said Kenkel. "It was one of our motivations this year to get it done this time."
Maryville entered the title game rematch as a definitive underdog after losing to the Dragons (20-8) twice during the regular season, most recently by 11 points Feb. 11 in Cameron.
In this case, the old adage of it being hard to beat a three times in one season came true.
"This is the most important one and we feel absolutely ecstatic about it." said Kuwitzky. "Winning a district is special and they'll remember that forever. I know coaches who've been doing it a long time that have never won a district title, so it's not easy. It's tough. It's a special group when you get it done."
The finals win actually turned out to be much less stressful on the Hounds than Friday's 49-43 semifinal win over LeBlond, a game they trailed by seven in the second half.
Maryville scored the first eight points and stayed in complete control, taking the drama out of a big game like it did often during football season.
The Hounds extended a six-point lead early in the second quarter to 32-17 at the half and went to the fourth up 44-25.
The lead swelled to as many as 25 points in the fourth quarter twice.
At no point in the game was Cameron ever able to make a serious charge or change momentum. Its largest run was six points occurring after it was down 22.
"It was a shock, but it wasn't a shock," reasoned Baker. "The only reason it was a shock is because Cameron is such a great basketball team. Our senior class had played them since we were in sixth grade and so it was very emotional out there the entire game. The only reason it wasn't a shock is because we're a great team, too. We know we can put that effort on the floor every night and we're going to have to to keep this thing rolling."
The Hounds rarely ever broke stride on offense, producing at least 15 points in three of four quarters.
They outscored Cameron by 11 points at the foul line, shooting 16-19, and made seven more field goals.
Cameron scored just 25 points through the first three quarters and shot a miserable 6-26 in the first half.
"When shots aren't falling for us, we kind of struggle," said Cameron coach Richard Berry. "It was just kind of one of those nights. No doubt, you hate for it to happen this time of year."
Maryville's five starters combined for 59 points and four were in double-figures.
Baker headed up the double-figure quartet with a game-high 18 points. Burch (13 points), Kenkel (11 points) and Trent Nally (10 points) were the next three in double-digits.
Unsung hero Ty Hilsabeck added seven points and hit all three of his field goal attempts, two of which came at pivotal moments in the first half.
"Overall, it was a team effort," said Baker. "You could just see the trust on the floor the entire night."
Cameron's lone double-figure scorers were Carter Morrison (19 points) and Tyler Roberts (10 points).
Ten of Morrison's points came in the fourth quarter when the Dragons were already down big.
He was allowed very few open looks by Nally—his assigned defender—and had to force up a number off-balance three's, most of which were off-target.
"We stuck to Carter Morrison like glue," said Kenkel. "Trent Nally did a great job on him and played hard."
Cameron mis-fired on its first six shot attempts, the first of those in airball three from Morrison, and went scoreless for the first 4:09.
The Hounds shot out to an 8-0 lead on a follow by Baker, forcing a timeout from Cameron with 4:04 left.
A fading three by Morrison got Cameron on the board and made the score 8-3.
That was a close as the Dragons would ever get.
Maryville stretched its lead to 15-5 on a Leslie transition basket and finished the quarter up eight.
The Dragons scored the opening basket of the second quarter to get within six, but Hilsabeck answered right away with a wing three to make it 18-9.
Baker's lone three started a run of seven straight points that forged a 25-11 lead.
With a pair of free throw splits and a Roberts left-handed bank shot, Cameron cut it back to 10.
Hilsabeck stopped Cameron's mini-run with a basket on an assist from Burch.
Kenkel scored Maryville's next five points on consecutive trips, hitting a pull-up jumper and then a wing three to give Maryville its largest lead of 32-17.
This stood as the halftime score.
Maryville kept at least a 13-point lead throughout the third quarter and grew it to 22 on a pair of Baker free throws.
He had six of Maryville's 12 points in the quarter.
Morrison's first three since the first quarter made it 44-25 at the end of the third quarter.
He hit another one early in the fourth that was erased right away by a Nally three-point play after the Dragons left him open at the back end of their press.
Attacking Cameron's pressure with ease, Maryville scored all 19 fourth quarter points on layups or free throws, the last of which was a baseline Kenkel finish.
He was the only starter on the floor at the end, while the rest came out to an ovation with 1:23 left.
"I think all the players were gearing toward districts," said Kuwitzky. "The boys are just focused. This was their goal. They're playing their best basketball at the exact right time."
With the district title in hand, Maryville continues its post-season odyssey against District 15 champion St. Pius X in sectionals Wednesday at 5 p.m. in Excelsior Springs.
A win would advance Maryville back to the Class 3 Quarterfinals for the first time since 2009-2010. The Hounds and SPX have not played each other in any of the last three seasons.
"We can go as far as we want," said Kenkel. "It's just a matter of how hard we play and how good we play. We just can't get scared of any other team because of their reputation. We just got to play."
By Joey Falkoff email@example.com
The Maryville Daily Forum - Maryville, MO
By Joey Falkoff firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated Feb. 24, 2013 @ 4:55 pm
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