The Festus Tigers Boys Varsity Basketball team traveled to the tiny town of Annapolis, MO to take on the South Iron Panthers in a battle of two incredibly talented teams over the weekend. The 19-5 Tigers are a Class 5 school that’s having one of its best seasons in recent memory, and the 22-4 Panthers are the Class 1 defending State Champions. This one had guts, grit and grind written all over it, and the boys from both towns did not disappoint.
The Panthers had the luxury of playing in their own building, where they are nearly unbeatable, but the Tigers are a veritable Goliath in terms of class size and district differential, so this matchup had limitless potential. Despite some early back and forth and a hard-fought game throughout from both programs, the Panthers came out on top in this one 81-67. Strangely enough, despite their geographical differences these might be the best opponents both of these programs face this year.
The game kicked off with nail-biter of a first quarter that saw both teams put up 12 points and some big shots from beyond the arc. Gabe Ruble had a pair of threes for the Panthers, while Connor Westhoff and Collin Weinhaus both connected from downtown for the Tigers.
Then the momentum briefly shifted in Festus’ direction as they owned a brief five-point lead in the second quarter, sparked by another Westhoff three-pointer, but South Iron responded in a big way. The Panthers caught fire and went on a huge run, spearheaded by Drenin Dinkins (seven points) and Jermartez Burse (nine points), to win the quarter 24-13 and take an 11-point lead into the half.
Both teams likely used the halftime break to get pumped up because the intensity was at its peak in the third quarter of the game. South Iron retained the lead overall by putting up 23 points, but the Tigers managed to cut into it by pouring in 27 of their own, highlighted by a pair of clutch three-pointers each by Westhoff and Cole Rickermann. At one point in the frame they were down by just six, but the Panthers responded with a big “and-one” play by Dinkins to relieve some of the pressure and keep a solid advantage heading into the final eight minutes.
Big threes were the story of the game to this point, and the fourth quarter was no different. Weinhaus hit a pair of huge shots from beyond the arc to give Festus a chance, but Dinkins (three second half 3PT-FG) was also burying missiles from so far downtown they may as well have originated in a different zip code. The Panthers managed to work the clock in the waining minutes, and missed just one free throw all game, which allowed them to hold off any attempt for the Tigers to tie the score. The 22-15 final frame ultimately led to a 81-67 victory and snapped South Iron’s only losing streak of the season.
Panthers Head Coach Dusty Dinkins commented on the victory, saying, “Festus is a really good Class 5 school. We were much better (in this one) on both ends of the court. Defense did a better job of trying to limit interior opportunities and our offense had better poise/decision making that enabled us to get easier shot attempts. Overall a great game heading into district play.”
For South Iron, Drenin Dinkins led the way with 29 points, nine rebounds and six steals, while hitting 4-of-9 from beyond the arc. He was backed up by DJ Prater (16), Champ McMurry (13) and Burse (11) in the scoring department, but it was truly a team effort from the Panthers.
As for the Tigers, Westhoff led the way with 16 points and nine rebounds, and was the offensive catalyst from beyond the arc, hitting 5-of-11. Rickermann was next in line with 15 points, while Arhmad Branch was the distributor with nine assists to go along with his eight points. Eric Ruess narrowly missed a double-double at 9-and-9.
Both teams showed a lot of grit and determination in this one and have the most important basketball of the season ahead of them. Festus will take on Potosi and Hillsboro to tune up for the District Tournament, while South Iron will begin their tourney right away, taking on Lesterville.
Good luck to both exceptional programs.