PITTSBURG — The Pittsburg girls' basketball team found themselves in yet another dogfight as they battled with Blue Valley Northwest in the inaugural Border Classic Saturday at John Lance Arena.
The Purple Dragons finished out their tournament week with a third-place finish as the host. Pittsburg trailed the Huskies at the intermission, but came out with a purpose on both ends of the floor in the second half, outscoring the Blue Valley 25-18 in the final two quarters.
“We came into halftime and talked about the scouting report we thought was really important, and we weren’t following it,” Pittsburg head coach Eric Flaton said. “I told them if they followed it, they would win ... We were a tired team, and for us to finish in third place in the first year of the Border Classic, that’s something that will be in the history books forever and we’ll take it.”
Junior forward Taylor Muff led the charge for the Purple Dragons, scoring a game-high 24 points, 16 of which came in the second half of play.
“She is our leader, there is no other way for me to say it,” Flaton said. “The kind of heart that she showed today, I don’t think she has shown that before. She was dead tired and things weren’t necessarily going her way at times. She kept fighting and fighting, and everybody else rallied around that.”
The Purple Dragons sit with a 10-3 record on the year, setting themselves up nicely for the second half of the season according to Flaton.
Pittsburg earned the win a night after falling in heart-breaking fashion to West Plains — who took second place in the tournament with a 44-43 loss against Carl Junction Saturday in the championship.
“We could have easily laid down after a loss like last night,” Flaton said. “As long as they can continue this resiliency, we’re going to be in a lot of games. As shocked or disappointed as we were after last night, we responded in the right way and I’m so proud of the girls for fighting like that.”
Pittsburg led by six points at the start of the fourth quarter, but that lead quickly evaporated when the Huskies scored seven of the first eight points to tie the game at 35-all. PHS didn’t waver, though, using an 8-1 run to regain the foothold on momentum.
“They responded by picking up the tempo again,” Flaton said. “For us not to get too tight and to come out and keep playing, it’s the epitome of what we’re trying to do. Resilliency.”
An offensive rebound and put-back basket from Sam Bollinger — who finished the game with nine points — gave PHS the lead once more. Muff forced a Huskie turnover in the backcourt of their next possession and ultimately scored the next four points of the game all on free throws to put Pittsburg on top 41-35 with 2:55 to play.
Bollinger earned a steal half a minute later, which led to a basket for Muff at the other end to move the lead to seven with two minutes to play. The play took the wind out of the Huskies’ sails.
After a back-and-forth first half with the Huskies seeing majority of the time with the lead, Pittsburg fought for a little breathing room in the third period.
PHS limited Blue Valley to four points over the eight-minute stretch, scoring six times from the field to lead 34-28 heading into the fourth.
“I think it gave us the confidence to know that we could do this,” Flaton said. “We have to reiterate to them over and over again that they can play with anybody and can beat anybody. They came out and realized [our game plans] do work.”
Muff started her second-half dominance by scoring nine points in the third quarter, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key. She drove left to right for a layup off the glass with 1:10 to put the Purple Dragons up 34-26.
From the opening tip, both squads had no problem trading punches. The Huskies gained the early 10-4 advantage, but Pittsburg answered with a 12-2 run which pushed three minutes into the second quarter.
Muff finished with six of the points, while Ashlee Beitzinger and Logan Lord each had field goals on the run to lead 16-12.
Beitzinger finished the game with six points, and Lord with three.
Blue Valley finished out the first half with a run of their own, outscoring Pittsburg 12-4 over the final five minutes of action in the second quarter.
Mya Mertz tied Abby Bird for the team high in points for the Huskies, scoring nine in the loss.
Reagan Phillips and Taylor Victorine had seven points, while Holly Hull finished with six.
PHS boys close out Border Classic with come-from-behind win
After a tough start to the year, the Pittsburg boys' basketball team has found chemistry and fully turned their season around.
The stretch of good play, winning games in every fashion, continued Saturday afternoon when the host Purple Dragons fought their way back in the fourth quarter to earn a 49-47 win over Atchison in the inaugural Border Classic.
“I am just happy we finished,” Pittsburg head coach Kiley Roelfs said. “It was a grinder. I felt like even when we were struggling early on, we were playing pretty well defensively. We just had a tough time getting anything going offensively. I am real happy for our guys.”
Pittsburg had a tough first-round matchup against the eventual Border Classic Champions, Blue Valley Northwest, who beat Bixby 65-52 in the finals matchup. PHS bounced back and earned consecutive wins to finish in the fifth place.
“Defensively, I thought we played really well [in the tournament],” Roelfs said. “I’d take those performances on that end most nights. I thought offensively we just had a tough time finishing inside ... We found ways, and that’s what you hope for on nights like this.”
The Purple Dragons have won seven of their last eight games, building momentum and confidence as a team as they head into the second half of the season. After an 0-4 start — with all of those loses by less than five points — Pittsburg sits at 7-5.
“I think our guys are excited about getting in the gym and playing,” Roelfs said. “I think they’re having fun playing with each other, and that’s the biggest thing that sticks out in my mind ... I think they’re excited about trying to keep this thing rolling.”
The resiliency Pittsburg has show over the past month of the season resurfaced again in their matchup with the Redmen as they went into the final period down 40-34.
Marque English brought PHS within four of the lead when he scored from the paint, and Adrian Scroggins knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing on the next Dragons possession to make the score 45-44 with 2:45 to play.
English finished with nine points, while Scroggins added in eight.
Atchison’s Tyler DeSilva pushed the lead back to three after catching a pass at the block for a bucket.
English responded with another post score on the feed from Scroggins, and Dylan Untereker — who finished with a team-high 12 points — sank a pair from the charity stripe to put the Purple Dragons on top 47-46 with 1:21 remaining on the next trip down the court.
Sherrick Rogers recovered a loose ball for a Redmen turnover with 14.3 seconds left, and Scroggins made one of his two free throws following a foul on the ensuing inbound play to give PHS a two-point cushion.
Atchison attempted an inbound play from under their own basket with 5.7 left in the game for a chance to tie, but the ball was thrown out near midcourt and Untereker’s pressure forced the ball off the Redmen player’s hand with time eventually running out to seal the Dragon win.
Pittsburg had five total players score more than six points in the win, showing a sharing of wealth on the offensive side.
“From the get go, we felt like we had the ability from a lot of different areas on this basketball team,” Roelfs said. “Our bench is stepping up and giving us good things. I think as our confidence as a team has grown, so has our confidence individually.”
Spencer Turnbull finished the game with nine points for the Purple Dragons, Elijah Harris had seven.
Wykeen Gill finished with 14 points for Atchison as the leading scorer, while Cole Batemon finished in double figures with 12 points.
Pittsburg is back in action at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Nixa.
Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter at @LDsportswriter.