LOCUST GROVE – Just when it seemed the game might be slipping away, 6-foot-8 Verdigris tower Lucas Lechlider remained cool and calm.
Playing the final six minutes with four fouls, the senior briefly went to the bench with the score tied, then returned to anchor the Cardinals’ 54-52 victory over Neosho, Mo., in the semifinals of the Bank of Locust Grove Invitational on Friday night at Pirate Arena.
Lechlider proved powerful inside, taking lobs for layups and short jumpers en route to 24 points and 11 rebounds on 10-of-16 shooting. Class 4A 13th-ranked Verdigris prevailed over the Wildcats, ranked 10th in Missouri’s Division 5, by holding on for its eighth win in nine games while dropping Neosho to 10-3.
“Our offense usually runs through him, and we got him some touches tonight,’’ said VHS coach Chris Houk of Lechlider. “Brant Teague hit some big 3-pointers after going 1-of-7 last night.
“We just had too many fouls, especially those technicals. We just got emotional, but we settled down and climbed out of the hole we dug for ourselves.’’
Verdigris was enjoying its biggest lead at 39-29 when Lechlider picked uo his third foul with 1:59 left in the third period. With the big guy on the bench, Neosho reeled off 12-straight points thanks in part to a pair of technical fouls whistled on the frustrated Cards.
K’dyn Waters, who ran wild for 30 points and nine rebounds, canned four tech free throws in the final 53 seconds to help send Neosho into the final quarter with a 41-39 lead.
“We've seen quite a few films on them, so we knew it would be a dog fight," Houk said. “They play in Missouri’s 5A division, so they’ve seen a lot bigger teams than us. No. 3 (Waters) is a move-in senior, and No. 34 (Kael Smith) surprised us. We didn’t think he was that physical.’’
Smith backed Waters with 11 points while junior Isiah Green added 10. Only four Neosho players scored and none off the bench. Teague poured in 15 points for Verdirgris on 5-of-9 shooting from behind the arc. Seven players got points for the Cardinals, including six bench points.
Teague dumped two important treys in the fourth quarter, the second giving VHS the lead for good at 48-45 with 3:54 remaining. The Wildcats pulled within 52-51 when Waters stole the ball for a layup at 1:41.
Neosho could have forced a 53-53 tie with seven seconds to go, but junior Brock Franklin missed the first of two free throws.
Neosho made 17 of its 26 2-point field goal attempts, but the Cardinals atoned with a 40-27 rebounding advantage.
VERDIGRIS 62, Coweta 33 (girls): Fifth-ranked Verdigris shot 50% and forced 32 turnovers in breezing past the Lady Tigers in the semifinals on Friday night. The Lady Cardinals were dominant in the first and third periods, outscoring Coweta 24-6 and 19-2, respectively.
Coach Mike Buntin’s Lady Cardinals ran their record to 7-2 by using a vicious backcourt press while racing to a 17-0 lead just three minutes into the game. Coweta did not score until the 4:03 mark and committed 11 turnovers in opening quarter.
Ahead 27-6 in the second period, the Lady Cardinals watched the Lady Tigers come within 27-15. But VHS held on for a 35-22 intermission lead.
Once again Verdigris stepped on the gas to start the second half, running off 11-consecutive points to build a 46-22 bulge. The gap finally reached 62-30 when Courtney Wickham laced a 3-ball with 2:46 to go.
Junior Morgan Borgstadt drilled 5-of-8 2-point hoops and 5-of-9 treys to pace the Lady Cardinals with 27 points. Sophomore Maddy Daniels and junior Ciara Daniel each chipped in 10 points. Sophomore Lexi Schauffler scored 10 for the Tigers.