By Lee Stubblefield
The anniversary of Feb. 23, 2007, looms for the Purdy Eagles. That was the date of the last Purdy loss in an Ozark 7 game, a tense 41-39 nailbiter at Verona. Since that final regular season game of the 2006-07 season, Purdy has not lost a conference game, or a home game.
None of that changed on Friday, Jan. 23 when the Wheaton Bulldogs came visiting. The 'Dogs four-game win streak came to an abrupt end, with the Eagles sweeping to a 62-51 victory.
While the score was the closest of the three meetings between the two teams this season, the game wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicated.
Purdy broke from the gate with a 14-0 run and led by 21 points late in the fourth quarter before Wheaton scored 10 points in the final 1:47 against Purdy's reserves. The Bulldogs didn't register on the scoreboard until the 4:35 point of the first quarter when Donovan Bartkoski sank a jumper from the left baseline.
Rusty Roe, Wheaton's young coach, settled his troops with a timeout after the early blitz. Following Bartkoski's score, diminutive guard Sean Goostree snared the ball after a Purdy miss and weaved a one-man fast break through the Purdy players for another Wheaton basket and a 14-4 score.
Halfway through the period, Purdy's Blake Williams missed a short jumper but teammate Kevin Terry ooped the rebound cleanly through the rim like he was playing a friendly playground game of 21. The Eagles stretched the lead to 24-9 before Bartkoski converted on an inbounds play with three seconds remaining, and the first quarter expired with Purdy leading 24-11.
Purdy led 27-11 thanks to a Trent Goetz basket on a long dribble penetration from the top of the key. Then the Eagles opened the biggest lead of the first half when Mason Roller planted solidly in the lane, accepted a pass and powered up for the easy score and a 29-12 advantage.
Wheaton hung in doggedly and chopped the lead to a dozen on two occasions in the final two minutes of the half. But Williams drilled a long trey from the top of the arc with only two ticks on the clock, and the home team held a 39-24 half-time lead.
Wheaton has arguably the shortest varsity squad in the state, and the Bulldog guards simply could not hold up defensively. It was hard enough guarding Goetz and Terry, but when Roller and Williams spotted up for long jumpers, the Purdy aces were almost using the defenders' upraised hands for rifle sights.
The Purdy crowd enjoyed a treat at half-time, a performance by the 21-member juggling team from Wilder Elementary School in Springfield, directed by Dianne Atnip.
When play resumed, Williams swiped a pass and drove coast-to-coast for a lay-up. In quick succession, Trenton Patton rebounded and scored after Goetz caromed a shot hard off the glass and then Williams went the length of the court on another steal and scored for the first 21-point lead of the game. A pair of Roller free throws with 4:09 left in the period made it 49-26.
Wheaton managed a 7-2 run to finish the quarter yet still trailed by a daunting 51-33.
In the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs crawled within 14 points with Bartkoski's free throws at the 5:08 juncture. Kevin Terry's long bomb from between the circles led another Purdy surge, and the Eagles reached another 21-point advantage, 62-41, with only 2:15 to play.
At 2:11, Chris Kennedy cleared his bench, Wheaton made a too-little, too-late run, and Purdy won their 11th game of the season.
Roller led Purdy with 18 points, and Williams had 16. Bartkoski scored 20 for Wheaton.
Purdy Coach Chris Kennedy praised point guard Trent Goetz for his play.
"When he was in there he got us going and lead the team really well," said Coach Kennedy. "He knows what I want, and he's like having another coach out on the floor."