Southwest's boys celebrated Homecoming in more ways than one on Friday, Feb. 20. Besides crowning Dustin Breedlove and Felecia Hopping as senior king and queen, the Trojans welcomed a chance to play at home for the first time in four games.
Southwest's nine-game winning streak ended last week against Joplin McAuley, and the next two games resulted in a trio of consecutive road defeats. But the Trojans righted the ship with a crowd-pleasing 58-43 victory over Brad Stewart's Verona Wildcats.
The visiting Verona Wildcats have teetered on the brink of a .500 season, and the senior-laden Class 1 team is trying to gain some momentum heading into district play.
Southwest rolled out the red carpet for its alumni on Friday, sparing no details. The Alumni Hospitality Room and the reorganized trophy cases and district plaques added to the sense of school pride. Following the introduction of Homecoming candidates and the crowning of the king and queen, the teams were introduced, with the Southwest squad trotting out to the Chicago Bulls game intro "Sirius" by the Alan Parsons Project.
Southwest has been known to live and die by the long ball in recent games, and the Trojans showed an intense interest in getting the ball inside against Verona. From the opening basket, a Levi Roberts lay-up on a feed from Josh Hartin, Southwest showed a strong affinity for the paint.
Although Verona's Charlie Withnell forged a 2-2 tie with his tap in at 7:02 in the first, Southwest pushed to an 11-4 lead to end the quarter. Freshman post Skylar Knoll surprised the Wildcats with a board and score and then fooled Withnell with a pivot on the right block and earned his second basket for the final score of the period.
When Josh Hartin drew Withnell's second foul to start the second quarter, his free throws and the accompanying 13-4 lead looked like the start of a series of knockout punches. Withnell not only remained in the game, he avoided further foul complications and scored three buckets before halftime.
Southwest stretched the lead to 9 with a textbook backdoor alley-oop play with Hartin tossing a perfect rainbow to Roberts for the lay in at 3:04. On the next Verona possession, Roberts swiped the ball when Withnell fumbled it going up and sprinted coast-to-coast for the finger-roll lay-up. The Trojans led 21-10 with 2:45 on the clock.
The Wildcats dug in and put together a 7-1 run of their own, capped by Tyler Conrad's long trey from the left side in the final minute, and Southwest's lead shrank to 22-17 at half.
The third quarter opened with a pair of slick steals by the Trojans, both leading to Hartin lay-ups and a 26-17 advantage for Southwest. Withnell scored on three straight possessions for Verona and suddenly the lead was down to 3, 26-23.
The Trojans responded with an 8-0 run, as Hartin found Roberts again with the alley-oop crowd pleaser. This time Roberts was fouled by Tyler May as well, and the old-fashioned three-point play gave the home team a 34-23 lead.
Wesley Kissinger tossed in a long bomb for Verona, and then Roberts canned four consecutive free throws as the Wildcats roughed him up twice. Verona saw more of alley oop than an avid comic strip fan and finally responded in time to prevent the baskets and force the free throws.
Conrad chopped the lead down to 8 with his trey for Verona with :40 left, and Matthew Whittington's free throw set the score at 39-30 going into the fourth quarter.
Freshman Tyler Ferguson coolly drained a trey to start the final quarter, and the Trojans would not relinquish their double-digit advantage again. Hartin hit back-to-back bombs at 3:36 and 2:52 with the "aut-o-mat-ic" cheers filling the gym. His steal and pass ahead to the streaking Roberts for a lay-up pushed the lead to 56-37.
Whittington poured in two free throws to give Southwest a brief 21-point lead, but Verona scored three stat-builder lay-ups in the final 1:15, and the final tally was Southwest 58, Verona 43.
Hartin led Southwest with 23 points, including five treys. Roberts scored 17, and Whittington reached double digits as well with 10. Withnell put up 17 points for Verona, and Josh Ayers scored 10.
Southwest converted 16 of 22 free throw attempts, while the Wildcats hit one of their paltry two attempts from the charity stripe.
"We have had a tough stretch of road games over the past couple of weeks, and I think our kids did a good job of battling fatigue from playing on back-to-back nights," said Coach Horn after the game. "The big crowd really gave the guys a boost, and they were focused on having a better defensive effort tonight."
The Trojans improved to 14-9 on the season with a pair of conference games on tap next week prior to a tough Class 3 District at East Newton. Southwest is the fifth seed behind state-ranked Seneca, Mt. Vernon, Pierce City and the host Patriots.