The New Franklin boys basketball team knew it was them against the world Saturday in the championship in the Class 2 District 7 Tournament at Smithton.
If being the No. 1 seed didn’t make it hard enough, the Bulldogs also had to play the host team in front of their home crowd.
But like all good teams, New Franklin ended up finding a way by pulling away with a big fourth quarter for a 59-45 victory.
By winning the district title-which is now back to back-the Bulldogs will move on to the sectional round on Wednesday, March 4 at Helias High School in Jeff City. New Franklin, 27-1, will face Eugene, 18-6, in the second game at 7:45 p.m.
Eugene captured the title in the District 8 Tournament on Saturday in New Bloomfield by beating New Haven 56-38.
The winner of Wednesday’s game will advance to the quarterfinal round on Saturday, March 7 at Moberly Area Community College.
New Franklin coach Ross Dobson said he couldn’t be any prouder of this team and what they’ve accomplished this season.
"We knew it was going to be a tough crowd and we knew it was going to be us against the whole gymnasium, so we knew we had to come out and work hard,"Dobson said. "I thought we did that really well. Defensively, I think Smithton has been in the 60s all week and we held them to 45, so you can’t be disappointed about that."
Up until the last six minutes of the game, Dobson or anybody else in the gym had any idea who was going to win.
Only one point separated the two teams at the end of the first quarter as the Bulldogs took a 17-16 lead.
But that all changed in a hurry in the second period as New Franklin came out and reeled off 11 straight points to extend the lead to 28-16 with 2:11.
The Bulldogs also outscored Smithton 14-9 in the second quarter to lead 31-25 at the half.
Of course the score could have been worse at the break had it not been for a 9-0 run by Smithton during a minute and a half stretch to cut the lead to three at 28-25.
However, at the buzzer to close out the first half, senior Tyler Perkins came up big just like he has done all season by hitting an off-balance shot from NBA range to push the lead to six.
Dobson said the run at the end of the first quarter and the start of the second period was huge, especially against a good ballclub like Smithton that has played well all week long.
"We had to take care of business,"Dobson said. "We knew it was going to be a rough one but anytime this year when you have runs like that, you can’t be disappointed."
Smithton coach Rich Pond said the kids played their tails off but the Tigers just had a few stretches, especially in the fourth quarter, where they missed some buckets they should have made and that ended up being the difference.
"We knew we didn’t want to get in a free throw contest with New Franklin because they shoot it extremely well,"Pond said. "We kind of wanted to do the same thing that we did with Slater on Thursday.
"We knew if we could get it to the fourth quarter and things fall the right way, you always give yourself a chance. I knew we didn’t score in the second quarter until there was about 2:30 to go, but we kind of do that from time to time."
The Tigers had little problem scoring in the third period. While the Bulldogs still maintained a one-point lead at 39-38, Smithton was able to outscore New Franklin 13-8 in the quarter.
Dobson said at that point and for the rest of the game he just wanted his team to take care of the ball.
"We didn’t want to let them have any easier baskets going the other way and that’s all we needed to do there down the stretch," Dobson said.
As it turned out, New Franklin took care of the ball and then some by outscoring Smithton 20-7.
Senior Gavin Bishop also had a huge fourth quarter for the Bulldogs with 11 of his game-high 22 points.
Of course nothing was bigger than the 10-0 run by the Bulldogs in the fourth quarter after Smithton had cut it to one at 41-40 with 7:09 left.
Dobson said everybody did their role today.
"Winning a district title is big,"Dobson said. "But now it’s only still one game at a time and nothing else matters right now."
Tyler Perkins finished the game with 21 points for New Franklin while Tre Cowans added 10, Tysen Dowell four and Crayton Gallatin with two.
Smithton was led by Logan McClain with 16, Derrick Shull 12 and Tom Tripp with 11.