By TYLER MADSEN
Special to The Herald-Whig
KIRKSVILLE, Mo. -- The Marion County boys basketball team once again knocked on the door of the final four.
The Mustangs just couldn't punch through.
Despite trimming a nine-point deficit to just three midway through the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon, Marion County never made the tide-turning basket it needed to fend off Meadville. The Eagles shot 57 percent from the field in the second half and held on for a 42-35 victory in the Class 1 state quarterfinals at Truman State University's Pershing Arena.
"I thought we played well enough defensively, but offensively we really struggled," Marion County head coach Ryan Wood said. "They covered our shooters, and we had a lot of empty possessions that killed us."
It was a defensive battle throughout the first half, with the two teams combining for just eight points and going nearly five minutes without a point in the second quarter. Marion County led 11-10 after a three-point play by Clay Pollard at the 6:14 mark, but did not score again before the half as Meadville went on a 5-0 spurt to carry a 15-11 lead into halftime.
Pollard opened the second half with a layup to draw the Mustangs to within two, but Meadville scored six straight points behind a pair of baskets by Kolton Friesner and a layup by Cade Shiflett for a 21-13 advantage.
Marion County closed to within four, but a 10-5 Eagle spurt -- Derek Smith's 3-pointer with 38 seconds to play in the third quarter capped the run -- opened up the biggest lead of the game for Meadville at 31-22.
"Normally, (Derek) scores a little more than that, and before the game we talked about getting other people involved," said Meadville head coach Darren Smith, whose team will face Stansberry in the state semifinals at 5 p.m. Thursday in Columbia, Mo. "I thought he did great getting Kolton and Logan (Newlin) involved throughout the night, which I think opened him up a bit more to score in the second half."
Pollard and Smith continued to pace their respective teams offensively early in the fourth quarter, as Pollard converted another 3-point play before Smith made 3 of 4 free throws in the span of a minute to push Meadville's lead to seven with 5:59 to play in the game.
Pollard hit another jumper seven seconds later, and after the teams traded points on each end of the court, the Mustangs senior hit a layup with 4:05 to play to get Marion County within 36-33.
"I was excited to play them again and got a few good looks underneath the basket," said Pollard, who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. "We hoped to come out to an early lead and put them away, but things didn't quite work out the way we wanted them to."
The Mustangs had three possessions to try and even the score but missed two shots and saw Pollard commit his fifth foul with 1:14 to play with the score still 36-33. Smith hit 1 of 2 free throws to extend the margin to four before Shiflett made two free throws on the next trip to push the Eagles' lead to 39-33 with 51 seconds left.
Kason Spratt raced down the floor and hit a layup, but the Eagles broke the press and found Friesner open under the hoop for the clinching bucket with 33 seconds to play.
Spratt added eight points and 10 rebounds for Marion County, which shot 32 percent from the field and 7 percent from 3-point range.