Arguably the two most bitter rivals in the area faced off on Friday night, and it was the Festus Tigers coming out on top with a clutch 65-64 overtime win against the Hillsboro Hawks. The Hawks bested the Tigers in another close game (three point margin) in the Annual Christmas Tournament, so this was some well-deserved retribution for Festus.
The game was neck and neck throughout, and littered with lead changes, but the Tigers were able to build a slight lead after the first quarter. Arhmad Branch had five points and Carter Roth hit a pair of huge threes to propel the Tigers to a 12-10 advantage after the first eight minutes.
The Hawks took that lead personally though and fired right back in the second with a 19-spot to mark the highest scoring quarter of the game. Logan Cash stood out for Festus with three buckets in the frame, but the Tigers were only able to muster 15. That set them up with a two-point halftime deficit, and they would trail 29-27 going into the break.
After the locker room speeches, Head Coach Jason Therrell had his boys pumped up and ready to retake the lead. Roth and Branch each hit big shots from downtown and Cash continued his hot hand with another three buckets and seven points. Festus drained 17 in the quarter and held Hillsboro to just 11 to take a 44-40 lead into the final quarter.
The Tigers did what they could to eliminate the Hawks and put this one to bed, but Hillsboro was relentless. Despite seven points from Branch and two more from beyond the arc courtesy of Roth, the Hawks won the battle 17-13 to tie the game and send this one to overtime.
If you thought regulation was tight, you weren’t prepared for the nail-biter that was the overtime period. Both teams went back and forth, and Festus was heavily reliant on their most prolific scorer. Branch had six of the eight points scored for the Tigers, but there was an unlikely hero at play that decided to make his mark.
Down one in the waining seconds, Hunter Bates was fouled and had two shots at the line with a chance to win it. Think of every basketball movie you’ve ever seen that ends this way, and picture Bates draining both shots Teen Wolf style. The home crowd erupted and Festus had their revenge victory in the most dramatic of fashions.
Branch was on fire in this one, leading all scorers with 27 points, going 9-of-12 at the line and nailing a pair from beyond the arc. Roth was next in line with 15, as the deadly outside shooter knocked down five threes. Cash had 13 as the only other Tiger in double figures, but Bates was the hero with his two clutch baskets from the charity stripe.
Coach Therrell was blunt in his comments after the game saying, “Great game. Great atmosphere from two really good teams. Went down to the wire and Hunter Bates made two free throws to win. Look forward to the rematch.”
It was an emotional win, a clutch win and a statement win for this Tiger squad that now moves to 11-3 on the season. They will take on Herculaneum Tuesday for their next challenge, but Festus will no doubt be circling February 3rd on the calendar for the rubber match against the Hawks.