The two-time defending champions will once again play for the Kaminsky Classic crown.

With a stellar overall performance, Francis Howell rode a tremendous start to a 66-42 win over Joplin in the annual event’s semifinals on Friday night inside Joplin High School’s Kaminsky Gymnasium.

The Vikings stormed out to a 14-3 lead and never trailed en route to the lopsided victory.

“That was a really nice win for us,” Vikings coach Kurt Jacob said. “We played really well. We take a lot of pride in our defense, whether it’s zone or man. I’m really proud of the way we defended and rebounded the basketball.”

Looking to secure a three-peat, Francis Howell meets William Chrisman in today’s championship game at 12:30 p.m. The Vikings beat the Bears 73-56 in last year’s title game. Joplin will play Nevada for third at 11 a.m.

Struggling from the start with cold shooting against Howell’s 2-3 zone defense, Joplin made just one of its first 12 shots, and the Eagles missed their first seven 3-point attempts.

“Francis Howell is really good, so we just have to give them credit,” Joplin coach Jeff Hafer said. “You have to beat Francis Howell because they won’t beat themselves. We came out and didn’t execute, but we also didn’t make shots. We struggled early to put the ball in the basket and they did a good job of pounding it inside or making 3s.”

Ranked fifth in Class 5 by the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association, Francis Howell hiked its record to 12-1. The Vikings shot a blistering 62 percent from the field (23-of-37), including 8-of-13 from long range.

Senior forward Matt Schark led Francis Howell with 16 points and nine rebounds. The 6-foot-4 Schark did not miss a shot, making all four field goal attempts and all six at the charity stripe. Junior guard Preston Fortner added 12 points for the Vikings and backcourt mate Sam Maddox chipped in 11.

Joplin made just 16-of-50 field goal attempts (32 percent), including 6-of-26 on 3-pointers.

Senior guard Zach Westmoreland led Joplin (8-4) with 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting, while sophomore guard Always Wright added 11 points with three treys.

Westmoreland’s driving layup was Joplin’s lone bucket of the first quarter.

On the other hand, the Vikings were clicking on all cylinders as they took a commanding 29-8 lead on Schark’s trey with 4:23 left in the second period.

By the break, Howell led 35-15. The Vikings made 11-of-17 shots in the first half.

“We took away their strengths and I thought our kids played smart,” Jacob said. “And when we got stops, it helped our offense get going. I was really happy with how focused we were at the start of the game. And if we can shoot it like that, we’re pretty good.”

The Vikings only outscored the Eagles 31-27 in the second half, but the early deficit was too much for the hosts to overcome.

Hafer noted his team will get the chance to rebound from the disappointing loss this morning.

“We didn’t play our best, but we get another shot at it tomorrow,” Hafer said. “That’s what’s good about a tournament. We can get this taste out of our mouths tomorrow and go out and compete. We know we’ll play a really good team tomorrow, and I know our kids are looking forward to that opportunity.”

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