Four days removed from what he described as a heartbreaking, last-second loss at New Bloomfield, South Callaway Bulldogs head coach Tony Brandt wasn't taking his team's small fourth-quarter lead for granted Tuesday night.
Especially when the Bulldogs missed three consecutive free throws in the game's final 60 seconds, and with the rival North Callaway Thunderbirds down by just one possession.
"Our lack of free throws at the end made it a little tighter than I would have liked," Brandt said. "Those makes really would have put the game on ice."
The free throws, however, did not come back to bite the Bulldogs. Behind a game-high 28 points from senior guard Will Brandt, South Callaway barely held on for a 52-50 Mid-Missouri Conference win over North Callaway.
The long-time rivals went back and forth for much of the second half in the MMC opener for both squads. The Thunderbirds, behind some sharp perimeter shooting from players such as junior guard Zack Lavy, controlled the scoreboard for the vast majority of the opening half, taking a 22-21 lead into halftime.
South Callaway was getting looks and scoring points. But North Callaway was getting better chances and more scoring, prompting Tony Brandt to change some things up on the defensive end.
"Defensively, we switched to zone for 10 to 15 possessions and I think that helped because we were able to find their shooters on the perimeter and pull down some rebounds," Brandt said.
The tweak did the trick and South Callaway (3-3) turned some of those turnovers into points on the other end. North Callaway forked over momentum to their rivals in that third quarter despite the fact that it ended in a 40-40 tie.
Will Brandt - for lack of a better term - scored at will in the paint, racking up 12 of the Bulldogs' 19 points in the third quarter.
"Will's a player that you can go inside-outside with, and man we just need to convince him that we're better when he takes the ball down to the basket and posts up some smaller guards," Tony Brandt said.
Will Brandt then proceeded to tack on South Callaway's first six points of the fourth quarter, giving them their largest lead of the game at 51-45 with 2 minutes, 20 seconds to play.
"We got a few buckets down there, but then had some turnovers when we absolutely could not have any turnovers," North Callaway head coach Tim Turlington said. "Then they went up for good, but the kids played hard and had a good effort."
Still, the Thunderbirds wouldn't let themselves get closed out and South Callaway seemed willing to keep the Thunderbirds in the game with those three precarious one-and-one clanks at the line. North Callaway used two free throws from senior forward Andrew Attebery with :23 left to cut the lead to one, but it never got any closer.
"We're going through some growing pains and this is a part of it, but we're getting better," Turlington said. "You ain't got to like it, but you have to go through it."
Lavy led the Thunderbirds (1-4) with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while senior forward Jacob Stafford was the only other North Callaway player in double figures with 16 points. Senior forward Jacob Wolfe joined Will Brandt as the other Bulldogs player in double digits with 14 points.
Meanwhile, Tony Brandt was happy to take this one, tight as it did get at the end. After the late loss at New Bloomfield, a two-point win over a rival didn't seem so bad.
"It would have been nice to stretch that lead a little bit, but I'm not going to complain about a win," Brandt said. "After the long weekend we had, I'm not going to complain about a two-point win."
The Bulldogs beat the Thunderbirds 38-35 in the junior varsity game. North Callaway sophomore Jacob Haubner led all scorers with 12 points, while South Callaway freshman Smith Kemper put up 10.
North Callaway hosts Eldon at 6 p.m. Friday, while South Callaway stays at home for an MMC matchup against Harrisburg on Friday night.