Wildcats stay on surprising run in stunning style

By design, the play that put New Bloomfield over the Canton Tigers in Wednesday night’s Class 2 sectional worked just the way Wildcats head coach Tyler Clark envisioned it.

Senior guard Daniel Berry — New Bloomfield’s best rebounder, according to Clark — would inbound the ball to a shooter for one good look at the winning shot.

At worst, the shot would be off the mark and the two teams, tied at 64 with 3.6 seconds left, would play five minutes of overtime.

“And then we’d win that game because we had momentum on our side,” Clark said.

But no one from Canton put a body on Berry, who followed up senior guard Aaron Bedsworth’s miss from the left wing with a tip-in underneath the basket at the buzzer to send New Bloomfield to a wild and, at times, unrelenting 66-64 victory over the Tigers at Hannibal High School.

It couldn’t have gone better if you ask Clark.

“We got the shot we wanted, so it did go according to plan,” Clark said. “We had our best rebounder inbounding the ball and they typically don’t guard that guy, so I feel it worked out great.”

No one guarded Berry. Truth be told, nobody paid much mind to New Bloomfield headed into postseason play. But that meant nothing to the Wildcats who, at 12-16, are now two games away from playing for the Class 2 state championship.

“I feel like the sky is the limit right now,” Berry said. “I really do.”

Berry led all scorers with 25 points and also had the daunting defensive assignment of guarding Canton’s prolific senior guard Colt Carper.

Carper averaged 25 points per game in the Tigers’ run to the District 6 championship. He ended up with 24 points Wednesday night, but was neutralized just a bit as he played with four fouls for much of the crucial, back-and-forth fourth quarter.

“Daniel Berry had an excellent game and Cole Carper was guarding him,” Clark said. “And once we got him in foul trouble, we knew that he’d let up on the other end because once you let up on the defensive end, you’re not going to play as hard as you can on the other end.”

Canton (19-7) held a 47-45 lead headed into the final quarter when the game became even more intriguing. Bedsworth, who poured in 15 points overall, opened the period with a 3-pointer to put the Wildcats on top.

Bedsworth then fouled Carper during a shot, sending him to the line, and he hit two free throws to put Canton back on top 49-48.

By the time Clark called a timeout with 5:06 left, the lead had changed hands a total of four times, which ended up being just a sign of things to come.

“It was mesmerizing,” Berry said. “You look up at the scoreboard and one minute you’re up one and then you look again and they’re up one.”

Berry, who missed nine regular-season games with an injured ankle, had 12 points in the fourth quarter and displayed just how much his presence was missed during his stretch on the sideline.

“I’ve thought all along that Daniel was the emotional leader for us that people underestimated his value when he got hurt,” Clark said. “Having him back and having him confident and believing his teammates is a wonderful thing.”

The 6-foot-1 Berry barely contained his joy at the happenings on the hardwood.

“It brings me endless joy,” Berry said. “I knew we had the capability to do it, we just had to play with our hearts and our minds.”

The Wildcats fought off Canton’s noticeable interior size advantage with timely hustle plays. New Bloomfield forwards Trent Crawford, a senior, and Greg Bedsworth — a sophomore — had 12 and 10 points, respectively.

They managed to keep the Tigers honest and had key rebounds and putbacks in the fourth quarter, which saw four more lead changes in the final five minutes.

“I told them in one of the timeouts with two minutes left that I love basketball and I knew they did too,” Clark said. “New Bloomfield has a great baseball team and they are ranked preseason in the state, but we talked about how we weren’t ready for basketball season to end and these kids LOVE baseball.”

And thanks to the last-minute heroics, the Wildcats’ focus toward the diamond will have to wait a while longer. New Bloomfield takes on Salisbury (27-1) — ranked No. 2 in the state — in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Saturday at Moberly Area Community College.

Salisbury beat Sacred Heart 66-50 in sectional play Wednesday night. So while Salisbury is supposed to be here, New Bloomfield isn’t. But as with his team’s final play Wednesday night, Clark figures the Wildcats are right where they are capable of being.

“Our kids played their hearts out and they believed, and sometimes that’s all it takes,” Clark said. “Believing and playing as a team — and playing together — outplays talent any day, if you ask me.”

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