As winding as it's been, the road to the Missouri state basketball tournament won't get any easier for the Waynesville Tigers' boys team.
Fortunately for the squad, the tournament is head coach Chris Pilz's main focus, so long as his team improves in each of the coming weeks before districts, which is a mere 18 days and four games away.
"We've got four more games before the season gets really serious," Pilz said.
As far as the season's results to this point, Pilz said the team "would sure like to have a few more 'W's' in our column."
"We've lost four games now in overtime and have been in a lot of close games," he said. "In the district tournament and [state] playoffs, there will be a lot of close games and we need to know how to handle those situations."
In seven of the team's nine losses, Pilz said, "One better play and we win those games."
On Tuesday night against Camdenton, once again, Waynesville suffered a brutally devastating loss to the struggling Lakers after breaking down late in regulation and in overtime.
With just more than a minute left to play, momentum shifted in Camdenton's favor. The Tigers missed several 1-and-1 opportunities and failed to maintain a high level of defense on the opposite end. However, Waynesville was able to block the opponent's shots – they just happened to create easy lay-ups for the Lakers.
"We had to do about 10 things exactly wrong," Pilz said, "and [Camdenton] had to do about 20 things right [to get to overtime]."
Unfortunately those things happened beginning with a "crazy three-point shot," which allowed Camdenton to tie the game and force an overtime period that was 5 minutes too many for the ailing Tigers.
"We were a little sluggish throughout the game, but managed to take control," the coach said. "Killing the clock, we made some poor decisions on when to shoot and when not to shoot."
Those decisions proved costly as Camdenton forced Waynesville's turnovers into fast break opportunities and turned the game around.
The Lakers eventually took a 5-point lead in overtime, which forced the Tigers to foul. Camdenton stole the game, 59-51.
Similar losses have plagued Waynesville (12-9, 3-3) all season, but Pilz is still optimistic in his team.
"The big thing is making sure the guys have a short memory," he said. "If you win, you've got to come back and try to get better; if you lose you can't dwell on that. That's what separates good players and good teams from being average."
According to Pilz, the Tigers players are just as optimistic.
Page 2 of 2 - Waynesville hopes to right the ship by executing an improved game plan Friday against Ozark Conference rival West Plains – and having a fully healthy team might help.
"When our whole team is together, we're pretty good," Pilz said. "We've played 12 times without our whole team as a group," and have lost only twice.
Add Tuesday night's game at Camdenton to that list; sophomore forward – and the Tigers' tallest scoring threat – Juwan Morgan and senior guard D.J. Hargrow were battling sicknesses. Senior guard Ethan Howser missed the contest for an undisclosed reason.
Even if the team is plagued with injury or sickness, those playing "have to get better with basketball knowledge and have to study the game," Pilz said.
To do so, the coach asks his players to, each night, watch college and professional teams compete to understand certain situations and their similarities to what Waynesville has gone through. Then, in practice, game-type situations are presented to the players and they must respond.
"We get another chance on Friday to get out in front of the home crowd and make it right."