"I wouldn't want to scout us right now," said Dickinson. "All of our guys are playing really well."
While Cassville opened the season with a 48-41 win over Galena, Blue Eye ran into a buzz saw at the Marionville Tournament and lost the battle of the Bulldogs to Wheaton, 36-34. Despite the loss, area hoops fans expected a tough game from the tradition-rich Blue Eye Bulldogs when they visited Cassville.
Both teams were tight offensively at the outset. After two scoreless minutes, Axl Larson came up with a steal and fed Evan Stubblefield for the game's first points with 5:56 left in the opening period. Blue Eye's Mitchell Mariott and Jonathan Luecke gave the visitors a 4-3 lead with inside buckets, and then big Toby Reagan snared an offensive rebound and converted to put the Bulldogs ahead, 6-3 at the 4:06 mark.
Six lead changes later, the Bulldogs carried a 13-11 lead into the first break. Maher, Larson and Ricky Nichols all scored inside to give Cassville an 11-10 lead, but Christian Mitchell rained in a late threeball to give Blue Eye the lead to start the second quarter.
The Wildcats opened the second frame with an 11-2 run and would not trail again in the game. Larson scrambled for a loose ball and found Maher free for a layup to tie the score at 13-13. Then Jordan Bailey alertly tapped another loose ball to Josh Lewright in the front court. Kaleb Sparks fouled Lewright on his driving layup, and the bonus shot gave Cassville a 16-13 lead.
Lewright and Larson both buried free throws in pairs, and Stubblefield pivoted his way to an easy inside score to push the lead to 22-15. Meanwhile, Blue Eye shooters twice missed the front end of one-and-one opportunities.
Mitchell cut the lead to 23-19 with a right wing jumper, but Maher answered with a trey from the top of the arc to give the Wildcats a 26-19 lead with 3:12 remaining before halftime. Nichols sliced through traffic to score the last points of the quarter, and Cassville held a 28-21 lead at the half.
The Bulldogs came out with a more aggre.ssive style to start the third quarter, but the physical play favored Cassville more than Blue Eye. After scoring four touchdowns worth of points in the first half, the Wildcats turned up the heat and opened a double-digit lead when Larson drove to the rim from the right wing.
Blue Eye was in trouble. Big Toby Reagan was already handcuffed with three first-half fouls and then Ashton Stephens barreled over Larson to draw a charge and his third foul just prior to the 32-21 Cassville lead. The Bulldogs came alive with a 7-1 run late in the period to pull within 35-30, but Stubblefield and Nichols scored late to give the Wildcats a 39-33 edge at the final break.
Blue Eye's Mitchell scored just six seconds into the period, but Maher's trey ignited the crowd and opened the lid on the 11-2 Cassville run.
"He can make that shot," Dickinson said of Maher. "A lot of times you think you want someone to work for a better shot, but he can turn and hit that one most of the time."
The Cassville defense cranked up the intensity, and the Wildcats withstood the Blue Eye foul-and-hope strategy in the final minutes to secure the 52-42 victory.
In 2009-10, Cassville finished with a 5-20 record and didn't earn their second win until Jan. 15. The Wildcats have not won more than eight games in a season in the last five years, and the 2-0 start is certainly an eye-opener for Cassville's upcoming opponents.
"It's early, and there's still a lot of basketball to play," said Dickinson. "but our kids are getting it. Cassville has had a lot of success in other boys sports recently, but not in basketball. We're working really hard to change that."
Cassville scorers: Joel Maher, 12; Axl Larson, 12; Josh Lewright, 11; Ricky Nichols, 6; Evan Stubblefield, 6; and Chris Smith, 5.
Blue Eye scorers; Christian Mitchell, 11; Jonathan Luecke, 8; Ashton Stephens, 6; Austin Mooney, 5; Toby Reagan, 4; Paul Dycus, 3; Andrew Standlee, 2; Mitchell Marriott, 2; and Tyler Box, 1.