The Festus Tigers had a successful yet frustrating run in the Annual Bob Sechrest Jr. Christmas Tournament, winning their first matchup, but getting narrowly edged in their final two. The Tigers ran through Crystal City, before losing to rival Hillsboro by three points and then getting edged by South Iron by just one.
That kind of thing can eat at you, but this is a resilient bunch and there are likely brighter days ahead.
Festus kicked off the tourney in style with a strong performance over the Crystal City Hornets, taking a commanding 26-11 lead after just eight minutes of play. The Hornets kept it close in the second quarter with a 14-12 frame in favor of the Tigers, but it was still a 40-23 advantage for Festus at the half.
Then things got ugly for Crystal City in the third. The Tigers poured in two dozen points, and allowed just five, to break the game wide open. The subs came in in the fourth with the game out of hand and Festus had themselves a smooth 69-36 victory.
Arhmad Branch led the team with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor and had six steals. Logan Cash flirted with a double-double (12 points, eight rebounds), while Hayden Bates had 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
That win advanced the Tigers to the next round, where they would face bitter rival Hillsboro, and this one was about as tight as it gets. Festus earned a two-point lead in the opening frame with a 21-19 mark, but the Hawks came right back in the second with a 10-8 advantage, knotting the score at 29-all at the half.
After the break Hillsboro began to pull away. They went up by three in the third quarter, outscoring the Tigers 18-15, setting up the back-and-forth of, well, the fourth. Both teams scored 14 points but Festus just couldn’t get over the hump at the end of the game to force overtime. They fell 61-58 and were dropped to the consolation bracket.
Branch was huge in this one with a game-high 28 points and racked up seven steals. Cash was the only other player in double-figures with his 15. He also secured a team-high seven rebounds.
The final game of the tournament pitted the Tigers against the back-to-back Class 1 State Champions in the always dangerous South Iron Panthers. But the tiny town of Annapolis, MO is know for their basketball prowess and they constantly can hang with larger programs.
Fittingly, the Panthers to a 15-8 lead in the first quarter, but Festus showed real moxie in the second with a 14-9 tally to tighten the score. After two, South Iron had the slimmest of leads, heading into the break with a 24-22 edge.
Festus came roaring back after the locker room speeches though and owned the third quarter 13-8 to take the lead. But the Panthers wouldn’t be denied in the final frame. Their defense stepped up at the end and they outscored the Tigers 20-16, claiming the one-point lead in the waining seconds. Festus fell 52-51 in a heart-breaker.
Branch was once again the man with 26 points and hit five of his nine three-point attempts. He had five rebounds, three assists and four steals as well. Carter Roth also had a big game with 17 points and hit five of his ten from beyond the arc, showing that the outside shooting of this team can be very dangerous.
It certainly wasn’t an ideal ending for the Tigers, but their two losses really could have gone either way. A couple bad bounces likely kept them from a deep run in the Tournament, which is disappointing because the team played admirably.
They will look to get back on track this week.