As Fair Play boys basketball was preparing this year to compete in the 86th annual Humansville Boys Tournament, one phrase circulated between the players in the locker room.
“‘Unfinished business’ is what they were saying all week long,” coach Deric Link said. “We have a group of guys who have been (to the tournament) for three straight years, and the last two years we’ve come up short. Coming back here for a few of these guys was a big deal.”
The Hornets, this year, completed that job. Fair Play took a 69-58 win over Everton Saturday, Dec. 7, overcoming a third-quarter rally to claim the tournament’s overall title.
Fair Play won 74-57 over Hermitage and 60-46 over Walnut Grove to advance to the title game.
“Any time you win three games and a championship at a tournament, it’s a lot of fun,” Link said. “I’m really proud of our effort and our mental toughness to move on to the next play.”
That ability to keep moving forward played out as Fair Play’s first-half lead slowly gave way into a third-quarter deficit.
The Hornets opened the game with a 14-12 first-quarter lead. They owned a 31-28 advantage at halftime. A series of turnovers and rebounds saw Everton leap to a 37-36 lead, which it built to 40-37 by the end of the third quarter.
Fair Play’s Codey Shuler forced a turnover, then charged in for a layup to start Fair Play’s comeback. Minutes later, Adrian Hartshorn scored to lift the Hornets to a 48-46 lead. With 1:22 left in the game, Fair Play owned a 61-53 lead.
“We had to fight through adversity, and we had to do it together,” Link said. “That was the biggest thing. When things weren’t going our way, we got composed and turned it around.”
Link said senior Shuler was crucial for the team.
“He came out and caught fire in the first half,” Link said. “He carried us for a lot of that. They boxed (Adrian) Hartshorn and Codey came through and was able to pick his teammates up. So they started boxing Codey, and it gave everyone else a chance.”
Hornet Kolin Thomas also came up big for the team, striking several times from beyond the arc, Link said.
Colby Durst and Adam Bass battled hard through the night, he added.
Link also credited Fair Play’s cross country program and coach Nancy Rea for the team’s success. Fair Play ran to a fourth-place finish at the Class 1 state championship cross country race earlier this year. Shuler finished fourth individually.
“Our cross country program is huge,” he said. “Because of it, we can focus on basketball early and not spend as much time on conditioning.”
The back-and-forth cheers that perforated Saturday’s championship game rang just as loud as they have for the last 85 years, Humansville athletic director Steve Gallivan said.
“There have been many times the gym has been filled to standing room only for early season match-ups, which makes for an outstanding environment in our 1950s era gym,” Gallivan said.
Gallivan said the tournament selects its seeds before any teams start their regular seasons, making the final rankings an endless source of interest.
“The tournament has served as a beginning-of-the-year measuring stick for local boys' high school basketball teams,” he said. “It’s always interesting to see how the final tournament placings compare to the teams' seed ranking entering the tournament.”
Gallivan said the district has been proud to host the event, keeping a tradition that started in 1933.
“Hosting the tournament provides the district the opportunity to showcase our facilities and hospitality to the fans and teams of the participating school districts,” Gallivan said.