PALMYRA, Mo. | Monroe City boys basketball coach Brock Edris took a timeout with 51 seconds remaining in regulation as his Panthers clung to a six-point lead.
Clark County trailed the Panthers 46-29 after the third quarter of Thursday's Class 3 District 13 semifinals, but two free throws from Brandon Kracht pulled the Indians within striking distance at 52-46 with enough time remaining to fully close the gap.
“We just needed to really try to play more poised,” Edris said of his message in the huddle. “We were up by 19 but they did a good job trying to pressure and speed us up.”
The Panthers took Edris' message to heart. They took care of the ball down the stretch and made their free throws and eventually pulled off a 59-49 victory. Monroe City moves on to face rival Palmyra in the district finals on Saturday. It will be the fourth time the two teams have met this season. Monroe City has won the three previous meetings, though all three were decided by six points or less.
“It'll be tight. We just know each other so well,” Edris said. “Really, they probably should have beat us two out of the three times, but we always found a way to kind of weather the storm and make a play when we needed to. It's going to be a great environment, regardless.”
Joshua Talton in particular was strong for Monroe City (25-2) a the charity stripe against Clark County. Talton went 7 for 8 from the line in the fourth quarter to help the Panthers stave off the Indians, and he finished with a game-high 25 points.
It was Talton's start to the second half that changed the game. Monroe City led 24-19 at halftime, but Talton quickly made that a 31-21 advantage with seven points in the first 1:30 of the third quarter.
“In the first half we were a little dry,” Talton said. “Coach told us to really get it into the middle and drive it to the hole, and that's what we did.”
Clark County (18-9) actually led 12-9 after the first quarter, as Monroe City only took eight shots in the first quarter and turned the ball over four times. Antwuan Battle hit a 3-pointer for the opening points of the second quarter to tie the game at 12, and that helped kick start the Panthers offensively.
“That was a momentum changer,” Talton said with a wide grin. “He said he was going to go get one and he did.”
The Panthers nearly put the game away behind the arc, too. After Talton's personal 7-2 run to start the third quarter, Kyle Hays connected from deep on back-to-back possessions off of assists from Bryce Stark and Logan Buhlig to extend the Panthers' lead to 37-23.
Hays has been dealing with an illness for the last week, so Edris was happy to see him break out with 11 points.
“I think he's practiced twice in the last week,” Edris said. “We limited him the other night against Macon. I told him that he was on load management like the NBA because we just didn't know how long he could go. He really stepped up tonight and was shooting with confidence.”
Even when the lead reached 19, there was no head hanging by the Indians. Monroe City did everything it could to stop Kracht, even throwing triple teams at him at times, but he still engineered Clark County's comeback with 10 points in the fourth quarter.
“Our kids showed their resiliency, showed their toughness,” Indians coach Adam Rung said. “It's a group that's not going to quit. We just kept coming, kept coming, kept coming. We ran out of a little bit of time and a little bit of legs.”
Kracht finished with 24 points, but he was 7 for 16 from the floor and 3 for 11 from behind the 3-point line.
“We wanted to make him drive,” said Talton, who guarded Kracht for much of the night. “We were trying to get in his pocket. Make him shoot over us, get a contested three.”
With so much attention paid to Kracht, other Indians had to step up. Conner Mack made 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter to help pull the Indians closer, while Chase Norton cleaned the glass with six rebounds in the fourth. Mack finished with 12 points and Norton had a team-high seven rebounds.
Up next – Monroe City will play Palmyra for the district title on Saturday at 2:30 p.m., with the game being played at Palmyra High School.
“I am excited. People don't think we're going to win, but the fourth time is always the best,” Talton said of Saturday's matchup with Palmyra. “I want to go against them, and I think the whole team does, too, to prove a point.”