‘Cats and Indians to meet again on Thursday
By Ethan Colbert
Winning the second-oldest continuously held basketball tournament west of the Mississippi River is not supposed to be easy and Saturday night’s game between Van-Far and Bowling Green high schools proved how difficult that feat can be.
The Bowling Green Bobcats narrowly won the championship game of the 94th Annual Bowling Green High School Invitational Tournament over the Van-Far Indians by a final score of 50-48.
With the win, the Bobcats improve their record to 11-6, 3-0 in the EMO Conference.
Prior to the start of Saturday night’s game, Bowling Green’s most ardent fans acknowledged that the Bobcats would likely have their hands full facing off against the Van-Far Indians, a team that is coming off of a Class A State Basketball Title and was ranked in the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association’s Pre-Season Polls.
Yet, Bowling Green’s players came out onto the court ready to turn that uphill climb into an upset.
“You just have to set your mind to the game and to believe in yourself,” Michael Starks said in an interview with the Times after the game.
The Bobcats jumped out to an early 5-1 lead over the Indians, with Van-Far’s lone point during the first four minutes of regulation coming from the free throw line.
At the end of the first period, the Bobcats held a slim two-point advantage — 7 to 5 — over the Indians.
Then, true to their form, the Bobcats played their best basketball of the game in the second quarter, where they held Van-Far to just five points while going on a 16 point run.
“After you told me how we play each quarter, I immediately went to my guys and we watched film,” head coach Brandon McCann said in a post-game interview. “We talked about how we were going to play this game. We talked about how in the first quarter both teams were likely going to have jitters and that it probably would be an ugly quarter, which it was. Then, we talked about how the second quarter is our quarter and it was again tonight.”
In the second period, the Bobcats couldn’t be contained offensively as five different BGHS basketball players scored in the frame including: Kameron Worley, 5 points; Austin Callahan, 4 points; George Niemeyer, 4 points; Gavin Deters, 2 points; and Michael Starks, 1 point.
With a 13 point advantage on the scoreboard at the halftime break, the Bobcats went into the lockerroom confident that they could be defeat the defending state champions.
That confidence may had lead to some overconfidence as in the third quarter the Indians out scored the Bobcats to bring the game back within two points and a single possession.
“I don’t why it is that we play so badly in the third quarter,” McCann said after the game. “I don’t know if I need to bring orange slices or gummy bears into the halftime break to give us some energy when we come out back out on the court. We need something to get us hyped up again.”
In the brief intermission between the third and fourth quarter, Bowling Green’s head coach reminded his players that Saturday’s game was more than just a basketball game.
“I talked about Walker Johnson and what he is going through,” McCann said of the Bowling Green High School student who suffered a medical emergency last week while at his place of employment. “Obviously, he is someone going through a big personal tragedy and this game was dedicated to him. So, this game was bigger than a game of basketball. This was a game dedicated to someone who these players knew that is struggling and who they believe is worth playing for.”
Those words of motivation looked to have been just what the Bobcats needed to hear as they continued to battle with the Indians up until the final moments of the fourth quarter when an offensive charge call negated Kaleo Dade’s lay-up that would have given Bowling Green the lead with 10 seconds left in regulation.
After the foul, Van-Far missed its game winning shot and the game proceeded into overtime.
“Overall, these guys fought hard through everything that the fourth quarter threw at them,” McCann said. “We would have the lead and then we would lose the lead. Back and forth it would go, but I have to praise my guys for fighting through all of that.”
In the overtime period, Bowling Green’s Gavin Deters continued to demonstrate his progression as a player chipping in three big points in the extended period by way of the free throw line and a jumper from the key.
Those points would prove to be the difference maker as Bowling Green held on to win the touranment title.
Saturday night’s win is Bowling Green’s first Bowling Green High School Invitational Tournament title since 2015 and the program’s 14th BGHS tournament title. The Bobcats previously won the title in: 1927, 1948, 1967, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1991, 1998, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2015.