Bolivar’s quest for its second state boys basketball state title in school history came up just short Saturday, March 18, during a 44-32 loss to 10-time state champion Vashon in the Class 4 Show-Me State Showdown at Mizzou Arena.
Brandon Emmert scored 18 points and grabbed four rebounds, and Conley Garrison responded with 12 points and three assists, but it wasn’t enough to overtake the Wolverines.
“Our kids played a great game, and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” coach Robby Hoegh said. “The kids did everything they were supposed to do. When the ball didn’t fall our way, we still gave great effort, we were still good teammates and we had good attitudes all the way through.”
Bolivar (27-5) led 8-7 with 1:16 left in the first quarter before Levi Stockard buried a left-handed hook in the lane with six seconds left in the stanza to take a 9-8 advantage.
After making 6 of their first 7 shots in the state semifinal, the Liberators were unable to find their shooting legs against the Wolverines. They shot just 22 percent from the floor in the first half and were limited to just one field goal in the second quarter.
Vashon (27-4) countered as point guard Daniel Farris scored three points, and Koray Gilbert buried a pair of 3-pointers to extend the lead to 20-10 at intermission.
The Wolverines stretched the lead to 24-10 with 6:36 left before Emmert posted seven straight points to trim the lead to 27-17 with 2:09 left. Momentum was on the Liberators’ side before Casey Cody-Jackson hit two free throws to extend the margin to 29-17 with eight minutes to play.
Bolivar didn’t back down. Garrison hit a free throw, and Emmert knocked down a 3-pointer from the right corner to trim the lead to 31-22 with 6:03 left in the game. The mojo would be short-lived as Joseph Reece answered with an alley-oop dunk on the ensuing possession to extend the lead back to double-digits.
Hoegh’s team closed the gap to 37-29 with 2:47 on a layup from Garrison. That would be as close as the Liberators would get as Vashon made 5-of-8 from the charity stripe in the final minutes to put the game out of reach.
Hoegh admitted it just wasn’t their night.
“I told the kids, if we lose taking the shots we took, I’m perfectly okay with that,” Hoegh said. “We got some good looks, and we took the shots we were supposed to take. They just didn’t quite fall.”
The last minute was a tribute to the seniors, as one by one, Hoegh substituted Connor Sechler, Hunter Jones, Hayden Lewright, Jack Pitts, Emmert and Garrison for one curtain call. Before leaving the floor, Hoegh was there to welcome the teary-eyed players with a smile, hug and a message.
“That was pretty enjoyable for me,” said Hoegh, fighting back tears. “That was pretty special. I just hugged them, and I just told them I loved them.”
In a fitting tribute, the scoring column featured all seniors. Hunter Jones added two free throws off the bench to join Garrison and Emmert. Pitts had four rebounds, and Ian Jones added three steals.
Farris paced Vashon with 16 points and three rebounds. Gilbert and Reece finished with eight points and six rebounds each. Stockard, the team’s leading scorer, was limited to five points and seven rebounds.
For Emmert, it was a bittersweet way to end his career.
“We came in every day and worked our tails off for it,” Emmert said. “This might be the first year where I can say we never had a bad practice. We did everything we could do, just like a wet towel, we rung out every bit that we could out of the season. Every last drop of it came out. It just means so much to play with this team. To be a senior and to know that all these guys are my best friends, and I’m going to miss them a lot.”
“It’s hard to make it all this way and not win it,” Emmert said. “Like Coach Hoegh says, we’re 20 years down the road guys and 20 years from now I’m going to remember each and every one of these guys. It hurts right now, but I know the guys below us are going to keep Polk County grinding and just keep up where we left off. There are so many guys in this room that have helped us, all of our seniors, to get where we are today, and I just can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done.”
Garrison put the season and his career in perspective.
“I think it’s hard because the season’s over, not that we lost, but (the fact) we don’t get to spend the time with these guys anymore,” Garrison said. “I just love these guys, and I love playing with them.”
The players aren’t the only things Garrison said he’ll miss about being a Liberator.
“I love playing for (Coach Hoegh) and I love playing for the community too,” Garrison said. “Bolivar is a town, it’s not a collection of (cities of) an area. It’s a community and I’m going to miss it.”
Hoegh had one more message for his team as they departed Mizzou Arena for the final time this season.
“The five times we’ve gotten beat, but they’ve never lost a game,” Hoegh said. “Because you only lose a game when you take a person’s heart and nobody has taken these guys' heart. They are all heart, and I couldn’t be prouder to be their coach.”