Pierce City Coach T.J. Dickinson might have found some real estate he likes in Washburn. Not a house or a farm, just the gym at the Southwest High School campus where his Eagles won their fourth consecutive game of the season, as they defeated the hometown Trojans 76-69 on Tuesday, Jan. 6.
"We like wearing green down here," said Dickinson following the contest, a reference to his Eagles winning three games while wearing their green road uniforms to take the championship of the Southwest Holiday Tournament.
The first regular-season game of the new year had play-off implications as well with both Pierce City and Southwest battling for seeding positions in the Class 3 District 12 mix. With the holiday break over, Mt. Vernon has emerged as the district favorite, with Seneca and Pierce City close behind. East Newton and Southwest are the likely #4 and #5 seeds.
With momentum from the tournament on their side, Pierce City met expectations and won the game, but it wasn't easy. In a game as noteworthy for hard fouls as great plays, Pierce City and Southwest waged a rough battle.
Southwest's Matthew Whittington collected three fouls in the first quarter and eventually fouled out with over six minutes left in the game. The Trojans' Levi Roberts also fouled out late in the contest. Pierce City's Wayne Sooter was whistled twice in the first quarter and was slapped with a technical foul late in the third quarter for an overly aggressive play.
The Eagles enjoyed an early 2-0 lead when Jared Fry converted to complete a fast break. Although Southwest salvaged ties at 2-2, 4-4 and 8-8, Pierce City pulled ahead 15-10 when Dietrick Sooter hit both ends of a one-plus-one opportunity with 2:19 on the first quarter clock.
The Trojans answered with an 8-0 run and led 18-15, thanks to Roberts' spinning lay-up in the final minute. Frey scored to beat the buzzer, but Southwest still led 18-17.
The two teams traded leads briefly to start the second period and then tied at 20-20 with Roberts connecting on the first of two free throws with 7:00 remaining in the half.
From that point, Pierce City outscored Southwest 18-12 to reach intermission with a 38-32 lead. Dietrick Sooter connected on a pair of treys during that stretch, while Josh Hartin poured in four field goals for Southwest.
In a chippy third quarter, Pierce City took control and pushed the lead to 50-37 with a Dietrick Sooter rebound and putback with 4:22 on the clock. In a wild turnaround, Southwest mounted a 21-10 run over the ensuing six minutes to take a 61-60 lead early in the fourth quarter. It was the home team's only lead of the second half.
The Eagles answered with a 9-1 run of their own to reach a 70-62 advantage and converted all six of their free throw chances in the final 1:14 to win 76-69.
Dietrick Sooter led the green shirts with a game high 26 points. Jared Frey scored 17 and Wayne Sooter added 14 for Pierce City. Southwest's junior guards, Levi Roberts and Josh Hartin, scored 23 and 21 points respectively for the Trojans.
Coach Dickinson pointed to his team's composure during the final frantic minutes as the key to victory.
"Our kids have had some success and they're not settling for that, they want to build on it," he said. "There's not a team out there that wants it more than we do right now."
Southwest Coach Jason Horn also pointed to composure as something the Trojans must learn to be successful in tight ballgames.
"Not aggressively pursuing offensive rebounds, missing screens, free throws, there's lots of little things that can come back to haunt you in a game like this," Horn concluded.
In the earlier JV contest, Southwest took a 28-12 halftime lead and went on to a 59-35 win.