The New Bloomfield Wildcats entered Class 2 District 5 play with with a less than stellar 8-16 record and no winning streak of more than two games for the entire season. But after Saturday, both of those situations improved greatly.
With Saturday's 58-52 win over No. 2 seeded Silex in Louisiana, the No. 6 seed Wildcats wrapped up a Class 2 District 5 championship. It was the school's first district title in 16 years and one that would have seemed improbable if you simply looked at things like win-loss records.
"This is definitely unconventional to win a district title as an 8-16 team," first-year head coach Tyler Clark said. "I told my team that I don't care if we win another regular season game this year, let's just win three in a row when it counts."
New Bloomfield jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead in the first quarter, which Clark believes was the difference in the game as his team led 17-11 first quarter lead and 29-22 at halftime.
Silex won the third quarter 13-10 and closed to within 39-35 at the end of that period. They were keyed by 6-foot-8 inch post player Stephen Aubuchon who led all scorers with 18 points.
The attention paid to Aubuchon did come with a cost though. Sophomore Greg Bedsworth and senior Trent Crawford, key cogs in the New Bloomfield post game, both fouled out early in the fourth quarter.
The setback forced Clark to go with five guards - seniors Aaron Bedsworth, Kolby O'Dowd, Daniel Berry, junior Cameron Baker and sophomore Justice Richards - for the rest of the game and bank on his defense. Though, to him, it's a defense that has done exactly what any coach would want to see. They got better as the season drags on.
"I felt all year, because I'm a defense first coach, that in order to win in the playoffs, you have to defend," Clark said. "Our defense was consistently better over the season and that's why we have the trophy."
Silex gained a four point lead in the fourth quarter, its first of the game but New Bloomfield chipped back little by little. O'Dowd, fresh off a 2nd team All-Show Me Conference selection, added seven of his 14 points in the final period, including five free throws. Bedsworth, a 1st team All-Show Me Conference honoree, led all the Wildcats with 15 points on five 3-pointers and added to the senior-led charge with eight points.
"Our seniors worked so hard all year and they really deserve the credit as well as the other guys on the team," Clark said.
Players like Baker, who came off the bench to score nine points. The most important of those being his go-ahead 3-pointer to give the the Wildcats a 49-48 lead in the fourth quarter that they'd never relinquish.
"Here's the thing: Six of the eight teams in our conference made it to a district title game while the other two at least won their first round district games," Clark said. "That tells you how tough our conference is and since there aren't a lot of Class 2 teams in our area, we play bigger schools we are always ready to go."
New Bloomfield (11-16) now travels to Hannibal to take on the Canton Tigers (19-6) on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. in the Class 2 State Quarterfinals. Through injuries and other adversities, Clark always felt that his players had what it took to play with anyone. Now it's showing all that promise at when it's most needed.
"I knew this team had the talent and capability to do it and it came together at the right time and the boys knew it too," Clark said.