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Area boys teams prep for action

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Polk County’s boys basketball teams are ready to hit the court this winter.

While Fair Play finished atop its district last season, the Hornets will have to plot a new course under incoming veteran coach Darin Archer. Halfway will look to build even higher in coach Jeremy Cook’s second year with the team after finishing 13-13 last season. Humansville will hope to rebuild after a challenging 7-19 season, and rivals Marion C. Early and Pleasant Hope will each look to capitalize on their returning advantages.

Fair Play

Three big names that helped Fair Play to a district title are back this year.

Seniors Kolin Thomas, Adrian Hartshorn and Adam Bass were juniors in last year’s program, and both return this year to hopefully again guide it through the postseason.

Bass led both the Hornets and opponent Climax Springs with 17 points in last season’s district championship.

The group will be working with new guidance from off the court, though, as longtime coach Darin Archer, who coached girls basketball at Bolivar for 10 seasons, will now take the helm.

Archer replaces Deric Link, who left to coach at Sparta.

“I am excited about the upcoming season,” Archer said. “We have a great group of young men that are not afraid of hard work, and they are committed to getting better every day. Being new to the program, there will be a learning curve for both me and the players, but I really like the way this group is willing to work hard and learn.”

The Hornets will also likely feature seniors Cory Cantrell and Mason Hopkins.

Fair Play opens its season Monday, Nov. 30, at the Humansville Boys Tournament.

“We play a very competitive schedule and the Polk County League will be very competitive from top to bottom,” Archer said. “We will need to bring our A game each night we step on the court, but our competitive schedule should prepare us for districts. Our seniors have a lot of talent and a load of experience. They will need to translate their experiences to their teammates and lead by example. That will be a huge factor in our success this season.”

Halfway

Cardinals coach Jeremy Cook led his team to a 13-13 2019-20 season in his first year with the program.

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Halfway’s Trenton McCarthy fires off a contested shot during his team’s loss to Galena in January 2020.

Now, he has the advantage of coaching a team with a full year of working within his system.

“I think last year went relatively well,” Cook said. “We didn't really start clicking and playing well until after Christmas break. We were implementing a new system on offense and defense, and the guys really bought into it later in the season.”

That system brought Halfway milestone wins, including victories over larger Polk County programs Marion C. Early and Pleasant Hope.

The Cardinals also claimed a victory over eventual district champions Fair Play in the weeks before the tournament.

Big parts of the team’s 2020-21 outlook depends on returners Trenton and Trey McCarthy and Sloan Gallivan.

The McCarthys are strong scorers and playmakers, Cook said, while Gallivan is a defensive power.

The Cardinals will also look to newcomers Avery Brown, Kolten Root, Grayson Gallivan, Landon Walters and Cole Allen.

Each brings their own skillset to the program, he said, including Allen, who is likely to be one of the smallest players on the court.

“He will have to make up for it with toughness and technique,” he said.

“I think this year we should be competing for a conference and district championship by the end of the year,” Cook said. “Hopefully, depending on our district draw, we will be able to compete and give ourselves a chance to win.”

If it comes together, Cook says good things are in the books.

Halfway opens its season at the Humansville tournament.

Humansville

Humansville High School basketball showed promise early in its 2019-20 season but struggled as the year wore on.

The team placed well in its home tournament, even claiming a victory over Polk County League rival Halfway, but ended its season 7-19.

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It closed the season with five straight losses.

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Humansville’s Tucker Ahlers looks for an open passing lane during the Tigers’ loss to Dadeville in December 2019.

That’s unlikely to tell the full story, though, with the Tigers gritting out several high-scoring victories, including a 60-43 win over Northeast Vernon County and a 67-61 overtime win over Hermitage.

The Tigers also return several key players from last year’s team, including seniors Clarence Foley and Dodge Hogan and junior Kooper Bays and sophomore Tucker Ahlers.

Humansville opens its season at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23, against Niangua.

Marion C. Early

Like Halfway, Marion C. Early finished its 2019-20 campaign 13-13.

The Panthers actually fell to the Cardinals 45-42 in the regular season.

It wasn’t the only tight game the Panthers contested last season. The program won a series of close games, including a 58-55 nailbiter over School of the Ozarks, a 53-51 victory over Ash Grove and a 55-53 win over Wheatland.

“Last year, I felt like we were inconsistent,” coach Jonathan Winslow said. “At times, we could play with really good teams, and at times we struggled. I did think we made some strides and improved as the year went, and hopefully it will carry over to this year with most everyone returning.”

Seniors Dylan Blehm and Garret Trantham saw significant playing time last year, alongside juniors Gavin Duchscherer and Joshua McMillen.

The Panthers open their season at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24, against Walnut Grove.

“First and foremost, I hope we get to play all of our games and that we don't have a lot of kids who have to miss games with all the COVID protocols,” Winslow said. “I expect us to be very competitive and to be much more consistent and have a good year.”

Pleasant Hope

Pleasant Hope coach Eric DeRossett believes last year was a step in the right direction for his team.

The Pirates competed hard most nights and competed well in conference play, he said.

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Pleasant Hope’s Marcus Price leaps toward the goal during a game against Marion C. Early last season.

“One of our major goals was to improve in our conference, and we feel like we took some big steps in that area,” he said. “We won 14 games last year, up from nine the year before, and up from one the year before that. We are excited about that growth.”

This year is another step on the course the Pirates have charted, he said.

It might not be all smooth sailing, he said.

“We have put together a difficult schedule this year, especially early in the season,” he said. “We could take some lumps early and even into January, but we are hoping that it will pay off in conference and district play at the end of the season.”

On board are a duo of top returners, including senior point guard Colton Highfill and junior Marcus Price.

Highfill averaged 14 points and five assists per game.

“He is dynamic in the open floor and will be one of the best players in our league this season,” DeRossett said.

Meanwhile, Price averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds per game and was the only player in the conference to average a double/double.

“And, he did it as a sophomore,” DeRossett said.

The Pirates also return experienced seniors Brendle McDaniel and Noah Sherrer and junior Tanner Hillenburg.

“We feel we are much deeper as a group and are excited for them to step up,” he said.

Together, that group has lofty goals, he said.

“Our goals for this year include competing well with our conference and playing our best basketball at the time of district play,” he said.

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