WEBB CITY, Mo. — Year after year, the rivalry between Webb City and Joplin has become quite a hit in the Four-State Area regardless of the sport.
Since 1985 in basketball, the Eagles have bragging rights in the all-time series against the Cardinals with a 19-17 edge.
And the rivalry did not disappoint as both teams opened Central Ozark Conference play on Tuesday night.
Coming off a 66-55 victory over Joplin in the Kaminsky Classic championship last Saturday, Class 5 No. 4 Webb City (9-1) pulled another game closer to evening up the series with a thrilling 80-74 triumph over Joplin (6-4) inside a packed house at the Cardinal Dome.
“Joplin played well,” Webb City coach Jason Horn said. “Their execution in that first half was really good. They had some of their role guys step up and make big shots. Good teams will do that. I thought they were a little sharper than we were in the first half. They were a little quicker to loose balls. They were hungry to get that win. Our guys’ level of play had to rise up and meet theirs in the second half.”
And the Cardinals rose to the occasion.
Trailing by a pair entering the fourth quarter, Webb City used a 22-14 output to help push its winning streak to eight games. Both teams traded scores until the 6:08 mark when Cohl Vaden came up with a layup inside to knot the score at 64.
The Cardinals followed with an 11-6 burst that spanned four minutes when Luke Brumit grabbed an offensive rebound and finished with a putback off a miss from Trenton Hayes to give Webb City a 73-70 advantage with two minutes to go.
But Joplin’s All Wright hit a turnaround jumper to cut the score to 73-72 at the 1:22 mark. Nickhai Howard gave Webb City a little more breathing room over the next minute, finishing a right-handed layup and hitting one of two from the foul line to hand the Cardinals a 76-72 advantage at the 0:29 mark.
Dante Washington made things interesting with a putback to trim the deficit back to two. However, Webb City iced it after Mekhi Garrard knocked down two free throws to pull the margin to 78-74 with three ticks on the clock.
“Our guard play was much better down the stretch,” Horn said. “We had some unforced turnovers in the first half, but we valued the ball a little bit better. We were a little cleaner offensively. We were able to get set up and make the extra pass instead of forcing some things. A lot of that is good seniors, good leaders.”
Despite falling to Webb City for the second time in four days, Joplin coach Jeff Hafer was proud of the valiant effort.
“We played really hard," Hafer said. "In a game like this, the free throw line makes a big difference. We weren’t good from the line, but we competed hard. I told our kids afterward, ‘We gave ourselves a chance to win, but against good teams on the road down the stretch the difference was they executed offensively and defensively.’ They have five seniors that have been through this. They are battle-tested and have won. But we have got guys that we learned tonight — we aren’t who we were on Saturday. We responded well.”
The Cardinals outshot the Eagles from the field 47% to 44% as well from the charity stripe 78% to 65%. Webb City won the rebounding battle 32-31.
Howard led five Webb City players in double figures with 16 points. He also grabbed six rebounds and dished out four assists. Garrard added 15 points while Brumit, Vaden and Hayes chipped in 14, 13 and 11 points, respectively.
“To be a good team, you’ve got to have multiple guys score,” Horn said. “Shots weren’t easy to come by early, but we kept getting putbacks and guys stepping up when other guys were missing a few shots.”
The Eagles had four players reach doubles. All Wright posted a game-high 23 points, hitting 8 of 20 shots from the floor and 6 of 10 free throws.
“All’s good,” Hafer said with a chuckle. “He’s a competitor. He’s not afraid of the moment. Everybody saw that. He scored the ball really well. He’s got to keep working on the defensive end. If he becomes a complete defensive player as well, boy he’s a scary talent to think about moving forward.”
League games on Friday night have Webb City at Ozark and Joplin at Branson. Both begin around 7:30.