North Callaway boys basketball breezes through host New Bloomfield to open districts

North Callaway's Isiah Craighead shoots a free throws against New Bloomfield in the Class 3 District 7 first round Tuesday at New Bloomfield High School in New Bloomfield. (Robby Campbell/Fulton Sun)
North Callaway's Isiah Craighead shoots a free throws against New Bloomfield in the Class 3 District 7 first round Tuesday at New Bloomfield High School in New Bloomfield. (Robby Campbell/Fulton Sun)

NEW BLOOMFIELD -- After shocking their entire district last season, the North Callaway Thunderbirds started the postseason by upsetting their in-county rival that went 2-0 against them in the regular season, Tuesday at New Bloomfield High School.

"Playing the host team, if you will, on their floor, they beat us twice already," North Callaway boys basketball coach Matt Miller said. "We knew that they were going to be confident. They've been able to beat us twice already. I always think that districts, records don't really matter and seeds don't really matter. It's a new season; it starts all over again. It's how well the team is going to play that day. Past results really don't matter when you learn from those things. You learn from them, and you take that into account, but then the seeds and records don't really matter. So, that was kind of our attitude going into the game."

Losing by two and eight points in its last two meetings against the No. 4 seed New Bloomfield Wildcats, No. 5 seed North Callaway ignited its postseason fire, winning 59-21 in the Class 3 District 7 first round at its rival's place.

"Proud of the boys, you hold the team to 21 points in high school boys basketball, that was just an awesome defensive effort all the way around," Miller said. "We got balanced scoring. ...We scored almost 60, balanced scoring and just a great all around team effort."

Being the host in a five-against-four seed matchup could be a bad omen, as North Callaway girls basketball hosted and fell to Hermann the night before.

Making up for it in a massive way, Thunderbirds hoops took it to the Wildcats, crashing the boards and getting bucket after bucket in a wire-to-wire victory.

With the result, North Callaway (10-17) ended the season for New Bloomfield (8-18), the second straight year, though the Wildcats won their most games in Zach Buscher's four years at the helm, including seven more than in 2022-23.

Right from the jump, North Callaway dominated as all-district Thunderbird Sam Pezold tallied the first of his co-team-high four steals before getting a layup to fall to put his team up for good. Pezold finished with 11 rebounds and three points shy of a double-double with seven while registering a tri-team-high three assists.

From there, North Callaway's two other seniors joined the offense to end its 7-0 run to begin the game. Paul Russell knocked down the first of his game-high three 3s, totaled 11 points, and then Isiah Craighead landed a mid-range jumper off his steal.

"He's (Russell) had an awesome end to the season, really the last three weeks or so," Miller said. "He's been playing really, really well. Shooting the ball really, really well. He's always been a really good shooter. Started off the year shooting the ball really well, and then kind of middle part of the year was a bit of a slump. Man, he's been not just shooting the ball; he's been just doing some really good things on both ends of the floor. The last two, three weeks of the season. So, really, really proud of him, and that's what you want as a senior playing their best basketball towards the end of their careers."

Craighead played the Thunderbirds' most complete game, recording a game-high 12 points (4-5 at the free-throw line), a team-high 14 rebounds, two blocks and a tri-team-high three assists; he also had two steals. Russell notched a tri-team-high three assists and had three rebounds.

Wanting to end its scoreless stretch, New Bloomfield called timeout with 4:21 left in the first quarter, and it did just that with Hunter Rackers hitting a layup to cut it to a five-point game.

North Callaway ended the first quarter on a 9-0 run to hold a 16-2 advantage. Levi Drake and Clayton Moore joined the scoresheet, with Drake making a layup following a Craighead steal and Moore scoring an inside shot after Alex Massman blocked a teammate's attempt.

The Thunderbirds tacked on five more points to start the second quarter before the Wildcats ended their 14-0 run thanks to senior Nathan Fuhriman, who hit a 3, the final 3-pointer of his New Bloomfield career as he tallied five points.

JT Powell, who'll likely fill Nathan Furhiman's role next season, made it 22-7 North Callaway when he went up for a transition layup after Rackers stole the ball.

Erik Blair joined five teammates on the scoresheet for North Callaway when he converted a putback on its ensuing possession.

The brief back-and-forth scoring concluded when Andrew Fouch made a layup to put it at 24-9 Thunderbirds.

A seventh Thunderbird scored, two points less than New Bloomfield had to that point, when Austin Brown hit a 2 to increase North Callaway's lead to 30-9 with two minutes left in the first half.

Alex Massman pickpocketed the Thunderbirds and went 1-2 at the charity stripe to decrease New Bloomfield's deficit to 20. Even though he was the fifth Wildcat to score, all five had just one scoring play when he made his free throw.

Jacob Fuhriman, who usually reaches double figures in scoring most nights for New Bloomfield, ended the first-half offense by making 1-of-2 free throws, the first of his team-high six points.

At halftime, it was 30-11 North Callaway. The fundamentals separated the teams as the Thunderbirds converted more shots, pulled down more rebounds and forced more turnovers.

"We rebounded the ball really well, and we pressed them, which is something that we had not done the first two times we played them," Miller said. So, I think coming out and pressing them, I don't really think maybe they were ready for that early on. And, so we were able to turn them over, and then kind of use that defense to really ignite our offense. And so, really, really proud of the fact that we did a great job on the defensive end. It forced them into a lot of turnovers and into a lot of shots I don't think they really wanted to take."

Over its first five possessions of the second half, Dalton Brewer tallied five points unanswered for North Callaway, with his top-of-the-arc 3 after a Craighead board making it 35-11 North Callaway.

Keeping it up, the Thunderbirds tacked on another nine points to their 14-0 run to start the second half, going up 44-11, already a large enough lead to begin the fourth quarter with a running clock.

Drake's layup finished the run, and North Callaway's No. 10 had 10 points, a co-team-high four steals and a tri-team-high three assists; he also posted four rebounds.

"Levi Drake probably had maybe his best all-around game of the year," Miller said. "...I thought he played a really good game, was really aggressive. One of his better outings, and that was a big contribution from him."

With the Wildcats putting their two best possessions together, Jacob Fuhriman tear-dropped his shot into the hoop, snagged a Thunderbird pass and went down the court for a fastbreak layup as New Bloomfield trailed 44-15.

Those were four of the Wildcats' five points in the third quarter, and Jacob Fuhriman accounted for all of them, making 1-of-2 free throws to put it at 50-16 North Callaway heading into a running clock fourth quarter.

In the fourth quarter, the Thunderbirds kept Jacob Fuhriman off the scoreboard, though Eric Massman joined the offense for New Bloomfield when he got an end-to-end layup to fall off his rebound to put it at 55-18 North Callaway.

Following that, New Bloomfield's final points were also the last of standout Wildcat Nathan Furhiman's career as he drove to the hoop for a layup to make it 57-21 Thunderbirds.

CJ Cunningham capped the contest's scoring, the last of nine North Callaway players to score, converting 1-of-2 free throws to seal a resounding Thunderbird triumph.

Getting the win, North Callaway spread the icing onto Jerry "Chop" Schoppenhorst's cake, with the Thunderbirds' statistician turning 74 years young Tuesday.

"I was joking with Chop before we even got on the bus even to leave North Callaway, and I said, 'I didn't get you anything, Chop, sorry man," Miller said. "He said, 'I only want one thing today.' I said, 'Let me guess, a North Callaway win?' He said, 'Yep.' So after the game, we were in the locker room, and we told Chop we got him what he wanted for his birthday. We got a North Callaway basketball win for him on his birthday."

As expected, come district play, it doesn't get any easier for North Callaway, taking on Eastern Missouri Conference rival, No. 1 seed Montgomery County (20-6), receiving votes in the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association's Class 3 poll, at 6 p.m. Thursday in the District 7 semifinals.

In the EMO matchup, conference champion Montgomery County beat the Thunderbirds 69-51 on Dec. 19 in Kingdom City.

"We played them once, but that feels like a long time ago," Miller said. "That was before Christmas. That's almost like a whole season ago. They're a different team since then. I feel like we're a different team since then. They're one of the best, obviously the best team in our conference.

"...They're the No. 1 seed, so going into it, on paper the No. 1 team in the district, and they're just one of the best teams in mid-Missouri. They're a good, solid team on both ends of the floor. They got scoring at every level. They do a great job on defense and make you work to score. We're gonna have our hands full.

"But we're really, really excited for the challenge. Really are. I told the boys after the game today, I told the boys after the game today, 'You get into the semifinal of district basketball, anything can happen, right?' I think anything can happen."