The Wildcats led by 15 at Reeds Spring and had an eight-point advantage, 48-40, entering the final period. But the Wolves took command down the stretch, while Cassville struggled at the foul line, and the result was a disappointing loss for Trenton Dickinson's team.
On Friday, a capacity crowd descended on Cassville's gym as the Wildcats entertained Carl Junction in their Big 8 Conference home opener.
Joel Maher and Ricky Nichols scored early to give Cassville a 4-0 lead in a slow-developing contest. Axl Larson's outlet pass led to another Nichols' score, and then Trey Rose dished late to Larson for a layup and an 8-0 Wildcat lead at the 2:23 mark of the opening period.
Travis Vogt and Matt Magee scored for CJ to cut the lead in half, but Larson and Evan Stubblefield both scored following offensive rebounds to push the Cassville lead to 12-4. Larson then converted a steal into a fast break layup and nailed the accompanying free throw for a 15-4 lead in the closing minute. Chase Marrs pulled the Bulldogs within 15-7 to end the quarter with a three-point play.
That basket by Marrs ignited an 11-2 Carl Junction run that stretched to the 5:59 point of the second period. Cassville took a timeout after Payton Walker's jumper cut the Wildcat lead to 17-15.
Maher scored twice on layups out of Cassville's pressbreaker offense, and the lead stretched back to 21-17. Stubblefield scored the last three points of the half for Cassville with a sweet lefthanded flip in the lane and then a single free throw in a double-bonus situation. The Wildcats reached intermission with a 25-24 lead.
Carl Junction had fought back from an 11-point deficit to tie at 24-24 but never led in the first half. The Bulldogs gained their first lead of the ballgame with 5:39 left in the third period when Jake McClarnon scored off a no-look pass from Vogt and then hit the free throw to give CJ a 29-27 advantage.
Josh Lewright rebounded his miss and scored with the follow to tie the game at 31-31, but CJ forged ahead and held a 37-31 lead at the final break.
The Wildcats trailed by as many as eight in the final quarter, but Cassville's shooters came alive to connect on five treys. Larson worked the crowd into a frenzy, hitting three of those bombs, with Chris Smith and Nichols supplying the additional artillery.
Cassville regained the lead at 45-43 on the Nichols' rainmaker and led again at 46-45 when Lewright cashed in on one of two free throws.
McClarnon scored on a home run inbounds pass to give CJ a 52-49 lead, and then Stubblefield's defensive rebound triggered a fast break and a Larson bucket that pulled Cassville within a point at 52-51.
Garrett Easson hit a pair of free throws that gave the Bulldogs a 54-51 lead with only 19 seconds remaining, and then McClarnon made two steals in the final seconds to halt Cassville's comeback attempt.
While Cassville connected on all five trey attempts in the final period, Carl Junction went perfect from the free throw line for the game, hitting all eight attempts from the line.
"It was a great Big 8 Conference basketball game," said Cassville's Trenton Dickinson. "It was a game of runs, and they had one more than we did."
Cassville scorers: Axl Larson, 18; Joel Maher, 8; Ricky Nichols, 7; Evan Stubblefield, 7; Chris Smith, 5; Josh Lewright, 4; and John Cavness, 2.
Carl Junction scorers: Travis Vogt, 17; Jake McClarnon, 16; Chase Marrs, 9; Matt Magee, 4; Payton Walker, 4; and Garrett Easson, 4.