Gaining late season momentum in Wednesday night's contest was the plan for the Waynesville Tigers, but unfortunately Republic had a similar idea.
Both teams came out fighting as Republic and Waynesville each committed fouls on its first possessions. But after the initial minutes ticked off the clock, it was Republic that emerged first in the first quarter.
"Republic is a pretty good team," Waynesville head coach Chris Pilz said. "against a good team, we've got to be able to make sure [Juwan] Morgan gets touches on the block."
Then, it happened, but on Morgan's own terms.
Waynesville, down by just two buckets, crawled back to within one after Morgan, Waynesville's sophomore forward, recorded a steal and shot an outlet pass to senor Ethan Howser, who hesitated and flung the ball to freshman teammate Reggie Walker, who then recognized a streaking Morgan behind him and dumped it to the big man for a spectacular double-clutch dunk from just inside the free throw line.
At the end of the period, Waynesville found itself down only one point, 9-8.
Again in the second quarter, it was Republic who surged ahead with a 10-3 run to push the lead to 19-11, but again, showing resiliency, Waynesville stung Republic with 8-straight points, including another Morgan steal for a dunk and a deep Howser trey.
The competitive teams raced up and down the court to trade buckets until Waynesville earned the last shot of the half, tied at 21-all. After stalling with the triangle offensive set, freshman Joe Johnson slung the ball to an awaiting Howser who was locked and loaded for a buzzer-beating three pointer.
Waynesville held a 24-21 lead at the midway mark.
But, for the hometown Tigers, turnovers have been a consistent plague throughout the lengthy season, and they were an issue again in Wednesday's second half.
Simply put, Pilz said "we've got to limit turnovers."
Republic's defense stiffened to hold Waynesville to only 6 third quarter points. The opponent also forced two turnovers on Waynesville's last three possessions of the third period to take a 5-point lead into the final stanza, 35-30.
"We're in a 2-3 zone [defense] and we let [Republic] get a wide open one-pass three [pointer]," Pilz said. "Then they got three steals and lay-ups on us."
Again, Waynesville committed four additional turnovers in the fourth and scored only seven points, which weren't enough to keep Republic from stealing a 51-37 victory in Waynesville's final regular-season game at home.
"That's the third solid team we've played in a row," Pilz said. "And for about three quarters we played pretty well, but we've got to stay engaged defensively."
Still, next week's Class 5, District 10 tournament allows each team a fresh start.
Page 2 of 2 - "Records are 0-0," Pilz said. "Our kids are really good kids and they try and they work hard -- we've got four practices to keep working."
With the No. 3 seed in the district tournament, Waynesville will use the next four days to prepare for two-seeded Rolla, which defeated Waynesville earlier in the season.
Not quite seeking revenge, Pilz exuded confidence looking forward to the upcoming contest:
"I like our chances," he said.