By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA, Mo. -- Clay Pollard doesn't worry about the pain anymore. Once the 6-foot Marion County senior forward gets onto the floor, he only has to focus on winning.
Last May, Pollard was in a car accident that injured his knee and required months of physical therapy. Pollard returned in time for the Mustangs' opener and had to fill a new role.
With Marion County lacking size after the graduation of 6-4 center J.J. Chatfield, Pollard had to take over in the post.
Although he missed two games after reinjuring his knee in December, Pollard has played in ever game since and is averaging nearly 17 points per game.
"It's challenging, but once I get out there and get warmed up, I don't worry about it or think about it," Pollard said. "I don't really feel the pain when I'm on the court."
The Mustangs, who are 17-7 and the top seed in Class 1 District 10, will have to take a different road as a whole if they hope to reach the state quarterfinals for a second consecutive season. Marion County bowed out with a 31-30 loss to Glasgow last season.
The top-seeded Mustangs will open district play at 4:30 p.m. Monday at La Plata High School against Brashear. Senior Kason Spratt believes last season's playoff run could help Marion County make another run.
"We can't look past anybody this year," Spratt said. "We might have to play La Plata in the second round at their place, and a championship game against North Shelby wouldn't be easy. Nothing is going to be easy. Experience will be the deciding factor."
Marion County returned four of its five starters -- Reed Plunkett, Pollard, Spratt and Luke Stratton -- and its sixth man, Logan Krigbaum, from last season's team that finished 27-2. What this group lacks is size. Pollard is the only Mustangs' starter who is at least 6 feet tall.
"Having J.J. in the middle last season helped out in the middle defensively," Marion County coach Ryan Wood said. "We've really struggled defensively this season. Offensively, we're about the same. We're just giving up more points."
Starting the season required Marion County to develop patience offensively. Wood said the Mustangs rushed there possessions and would take shots too quickly. Since then, Marion County has to run its offense by getting the ball into Pollard, who can facilitate from there.
"I played some traveling ball and some AAU ball and learned how to be more of a scorer," Pollard said. "I'd never looked to score in prior years. I would rather see the other guys score and be more of a distributor. Kason and I have stepped up to the plate and figured out how to score."
Spratt knew adjustments were going to have to be made.
"We knew it was going to difficult coming into the season," Spratt said. "Until you play, you don't know what to expect. I think we've adjusted pretty well so far. Losing your leading scorer and your best defensive player inside takes a while to adjust to."
Pollard doesn't have any lingering frustrations from the Mustangs' loss in the playoffs last season. But he is driven to help the Mustangs make it back.
"It's my senior year, I'm ready to go," Pollard said. "We're real excited, and we have the No. 1 seed in districts. ... We lost to North Shelby two times, but we didn't shoot well against them either time. They can't beat us three times. We eventually have to shoot well against them."