The Monroe City boys basketball team gutted out a 60-57 overtime win over Clark County to claim the Class 3 District 8 championship.
For a moment, the Monroe City boys basketball team was having flashbacks.
Clark County’s Zeb Riney had the ball in his hands in the closing seconds with a chance to play the role of villain against the Panthers yet again.
Last season, Riney knocked down a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Indians a win over Monroe City and deny the Panthers a conference championship.
Saturday afternoon, Riney had the ball in his hands with a chance to deny the Panthers a second straight district title.
But the Panthers stood their ground Saturday for a 60-57 overtime win in the Class 3 District 8 championship game.
“Up one and with a player like Zeb with the ball, it makes you pretty nervous,” Monroe City coach Brock Edris said of the closing seconds in overtime. “But we have trust in our defense. They were locked in and competed till the very end.”
Clark County created two chances on the possession, but a shot attempt after the rebound went out of bounds with 1.3 seconds left.
Monroe City's Zach Osborn was fouled on the inbound pass and knocked down two free throws for the final margin.
Clark County coach Adam Rung said he would put the ball back in Riney’s hands all over again if given the chance.
“We would take that every time,” Rung said of giving Riney the chance for the game-winner. “We got two good looks at it, but for whatever reason, the lid was on the hoop.”
Riney finished with 18 points in the loss.
The senior guard almost never played as he was battling the flu and received an IV before the game.
“He is just a winner,” the Indians coach said. “That’s all you can say about him. We didn’t know if we would have him at all today, but he ended up giving 36 minutes and he never complained.”
Much like its semifinal win over No. 1 seed Hallsville less than 24 hours prior, Monroe City jumped out to a fast start.
Antwuan Battle opened the scoring with a drive before knocking down a 3-pointer from the top of the key for a 5-0 lead.
Back-to-back triples from Bryce Stark extended the Panthers lead to 11-1 with 3:40 left in the opening frame.
“It was big to start out hot again like we did against Hallsville,” the Panthers coach said. “All the guys are playing with a lot of confidence and they are all just playing for each other. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Riney then scored the next 11 points for the Indians with a trio of 3-pointers and a drive.
Monroe City led 16-12 after the first period.
Cole Kirchner knocked down a 3-pointer with 4:20 left in the half to give the Indians a 19-18 lead.
It would be short-lived as Stark came back with his third trey of the half to put Monroe City back ahead.
“Bryce has really stepped up the last few games,” Panthers junior Blake Hays said. “He has really hit some clutch shots for us in the district.”
Monroe City led 31-25 at the break.
Defense took over for the both teams in the third, as the Panthers carried a 40-36 lead into the fourth.
Battle converted a steal into an acrobatic layup, which proceeded a corner 3 by Hays for a 49-40 lead.
A pair of 3-pointers by Brandon Kracht sparked a 12-3 run by the Indians to force the extra session.
“It was pretty nerve-racking,” Hays said of going into overtime. “We knew they would have a lot of momentum by pushing it to OT, but we just wanted to keep playing with high energy, and the shots fell for us in overtime.”
Hays started the scoring in the extra session with a corner three on an assist from C.E. Talton.
Talton gave the Panthers a 58-57 lead by splitting a pair of free throws with 1:21 left before the Monroe City defense stepped up.
“The guys just battled like they have done all postseason,” Edris said. “For us to have to go through Palmyra, then get by Hallsville and then playing Clark County on no rest, our backs were against the wall. But the guys have embraced the underdog role, they are playing with a ton of confidence, sharing the basketball and have defended.
"That’s all you can ask of your team.”
Hays scored a game-high 20 points in the win. Talton (12), Stark (11) and Battle (9) combined for 32 points.
Monroe City (24-4) will face Christian High School on Wednesday in a Class 3 state sectional game.
“It feels pretty good to get this win and be moving on,” Stark said. “But we don’t want to stop here.”