The Wildcats executed Danny Powers' game plan well in the first half. Cassville started 6'5" Ethan Lowery alongside Joel Maher to offset Republic's decided height advantage. On offense, Maher brought the ball up the court, forcing Republic to either bring a big man up to guard or allow Cassville the mismatch with a guard on Maher at the top of the key.
The Wildcats led in the first minute when Maher opened the scoring with a layup off a Lowery assist. Lowery gave the 'Cats a 4-2 lead with a pair of free throws, and Ricky Nichols created a 5-4 lead at the 4:24 mark when he hit one freebie.
John Cavness drove the baseline and hit a twisting pull-up jumper in the final seconds of the period to tie the game at 12-12.
It was the best quarter of basketball the Wildcats had played this season. Besides executing well on offense, Cassville held Marcus Miller, Republic's 6'0" center, scoreless in the frame. In fact, Miller went to the bench with a pair of personal fouls at the 5:41 mark and did not see action again in the period.
Maher scored on a give-and-go layup to give Cassville a 14-12 lead to start the second period. Dylan Bekemeier scored three the old-fashioned way to give the Tigers a 15-14 lead, and then Nichols buried a long trey from the left wing for a 17-15 Cassville advantage.
It would be the last lead of the game for the Wildcats.
Republic grabbed a 22-17 lead on a 7-0 run. Lowery answered for Cassville, scoring inside and converting the three-point play opportunity, to cut the lead to 22-20. But Republic stretched the margin, scoring 9 points in the final 2:03 of the half. Josh Vaughn swished a three-ball in the final half-minute to give the Tigers a 35-26 halftime lead.
The third period was an ugly, low-scoring affair. The Wildcats collected three fouls in the opening 23 seconds after halftime and outscored the Tigers 8-6 in a chippy quarter of play. Republic led 41-34 at the final break.
Cassville could get no closer than 7 points in the final quarter. The Tigers scored 7 of their 16 fourth-quarter points from the free-throw line and pulled away to the 57-41 victory.
"Right now, we are still trying to figure out our identity as a team," reflected Cassville's Danny Powers after the game. "Even though we play mostly juniors and seniors, our kids are still trying to figure out their role on the team and what it takes to succeed at the varsity level.
"When you combine inexperience with a new coach and some injuries, you are going to struggle a little bit early on," Powers continued. "What our kids have done a great job with is staying positive and continuing to battle each time we step out on the floor. We have been in every game this year, and as soon as we figure out our identity and get healthy, we will be a very tough team to beat come conference time and district play."
After a 0-2 start, Republic now has a 2-2 record. Cassville stands at 0-3 after the loss. The Wildcats will play at Carthage on Friday night.
"I think the Big 8 is up for grabs this year," Powers concluded. "Carl Junction is returning the conference player of the year, and they went undefeated in conference play last year, so right now they will be the team to beat. We will have two tough road games to open up conference play with Carl Junction and Mt. Vernon in mid-January. We will see how we stack up in the conference then."
Cassville scorers: Ricky Nichols, 12; Joel Maher, 11; Ethan Lowery, 9; John Cavness, 4; Garrett Kirk, 3; and Jordan Shore, 2.
Republic scorers: Dylan Bekemeier, 19; Josh Vaughn, 12; Cody Geiger, 6; Ty Abney, 4; Pierce Pittman, 4; Marcus Miller, 4; Grant Hancock, 4; Payton Looney, 2; and Zach White, 2.
Republic won the JV contest, 47-12, behind 10 points from Dylan Bekemeier. Ty Craig and Kayleb Sparks scored 4 each for Cassville.