Wildcats not withering from lack of respect

Contributed photo: New Bloomfield head coach Tyler Clark recognizes the Wildcats’ fans with a raised index finger while his players celebrate with the championship plaque after No. 5 seed New Bloomfield turned back No. 2 Silex 58-52 for the District 5 title on Saturday night at Louisiana High School. The Wildcats (11-16) face Canton (19-6) in a Class 2 sectional at Hannibal High School at 6 tonight.

Contributed photo: New Bloomfield head coach Tyler Clark recognizes the Wildcats’ fans with a raised index finger while his players celebrate with the championship plaque after No. 5 seed New Bloomfield turned back No. 2 Silex 58-52 for the District 5 title on Saturday night at Louisiana High School. The Wildcats (11-16) face Canton (19-6) in a Class 2 sectional at Hannibal High School at 6 tonight.

— Just a day before his team’s Class 2 sectional playoff game against the Canton Tigers, New Bloomfield Wildcats head basketball coach Tyler Clark had a few parting words for his players.

As Clark brought up the lights after a film study session, he advised the squad to eat properly, get focused and just treat this as if it were any other game.

Then he said this.

“Everyone has us already slotted for a loss, so think about that as you’re lying in bed tonight,” Clark said to his players. “Chances are, they are going to underestimate us like everyone else has.”

Clark coached Hannibal’s junior varsity team and is familiar with media members and outlets near Canton.

So when perusing the sports pages looking for any reading material ahead of tonight’s matchup (tipoff at 6) between the Wildcats and Tigers at Hannibal High School, he learned some media members failed to even mention that Canton (19-6) would be playing New Bloomfield (11-16). It was assumed that the Tigers would easily cruise on to the quarterfinals.

Naturally, Clark posted the piece all over the Wildcats’ locker room.

“The article said it expected to see Canton in the final four and it didn’t even mention us,” senior forward Trent Crawford said. “I don’t think we were even named and it was a guy from Quincy (Ill.) who didn’t even know about us.”

Senior guard Daniel Berry also took the snub personally.

“I felt like they don’t even realize how good we’re playing and what we’re even capable of,” Berry said.

So consider the underdog card played. New Bloomfield is the only remaining school in the Class 2 playoffs with a losing record and will likely be overlooked for the rest of the postseason, however long that may be.

Fine by the Wildcats.

“I thought it was good for the kids to see and keep them focused, and keep them prepared for the task at hand,” Clark said. “I think a lot of people underestimated us in the district tournament and I like that role.”

New Bloomfield is treating this playoff run as a new season and is touting itself as a 3-0 team, despite winning six of its last nine games. Clark was adamant about his team getting it together when it counted most, and it did that on the way to capturing the school’s first district basketball title since moving from Class 1 to Class 2.

“We knew we had it in us, it was just about going out there and doing it,” senior guard Aaron Bedsworth said. “Now we’re gelling just at the right time.”

The surge is rooted, first and foremost, in the Wildcats getting back all of their available parts. Senior point guard Kolby O’Dowd — absent from Tuesday’s practice due to a bout with the flu — and Bedsworth slogged much of the offensive load while Berry sat out nine games with an injured ankle.

“I absolutely hated it and felt like I couldn’t be there for them,” Berry said. “I just wanted to go out there and help them, but words can only say so much and you have to lead by example.”

Much of that example has been on the defensive end. Clark has tabbed Bedsworth, who leads the team in scoring at 17.5 points per game, as the team’s defensive catalyst. He and others will be needed against Canton, which is led by senior guard Colt Carper.

Carper averaged 25 points per game in the Tigers’ run to the District 6 championship, including 30 in an 67-48 win over Milan in the tournament opener.

“For Northeast Missouri, he’s one of the best players in the area,” Clark said. “He’s athletic, he beats you off the dribble and he can finish well and shoot well.”

“He’s a matchup problem because he’s strong and quick, so if you put a bigger guy on him, he’ll take that guy to the basket — but if you put a smaller man on him, he can post that guy up. So he’s a matchup problem for everybody and he opens up things for their other players.”

The Wildcats have a plan on how to defend Carper, but wouldn’t divulge much of it besides the fact that Berry will be his primary handler. In watching tape of Carper’s 18-point performance in Canton’s 66-48 district title win over Putnam County, New Bloomfield players took away something else.

“When we watched that game film of him, Putnam County looked lazy and like they weren’t even guarding him,” Bedsworth said. “He (Carper) is streaky.”

That bit of critique, however, won’t prevent the Wildcats from playing the game of their lives to keep this unexpected run going for at least one more game.

They won’t be favorites and know that their less-than-stellar regular season record will follow them no matter what. In fact, even if New Bloomfield went on to win a state title, it would still finish under .500 for the season.

But at least the Wildcats have the confidence to know that they have the kind of ceiling that the otherwise uninformed don’t think they possess.

“We play a lot of bigger schools than most Class 2 teams because that’s all we have around here,” Berry said. “I give it to (Canton) for being more consistent in the regular season, but during that time we weren’t us.

“We weren’t the team we are now.”

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