With Melbourne making an early exit from the Izard County Invitational Tournament for the first time in five years, the Bearkatz' half-decade run of county tourney titles went with it, leaving the 2005 edition up for grabs.
Enter the Salem Greyhounds.
Riding a devastating late-game surge, the second-seeded Hounds knocked off the host team and number one seed Izard County Consolidated Cougars 56-37 at the Cougars' Den Jan. 29.
With the two squads splitting a pair of previous meetings in 2AA-North play before their tilt in the finals, one thing was certain -- anything could happen.
But most unexpected was the way Salem (12-9) put the game away.
After a tight going for the first three periods, the Cougars (22-9) suffered through a listless last 10 minutes of play.
With the game locked at 32-all at the 3:21 mark of the third period, Salem's interior defense came to life, forcing ICC to look outside for its points.
However, the Cougars' outside stroke took a hiatus, while the Hounds heated up.
Salem ended the third with four unanswered points to move ahead 35-32 after three. As it turned out, the Greyhounds were just getting started.
Opening the fourth on a 12-0 run, Salem grabbed complete control of the title game, extending its lead to 47-32 with a little over two minutes left to play.
Justin Burns (16 points) broke up this run with his fourth trey of the game, but at this point it was too little, too late for the Cougars.
Salem ended up holding ICC to just five points in the fourth, as they took the Izard County trophy back to Fulton County.
As goes a game between two old foes goes, the going was close early.
Phillip Taylor tossed in nine of his game-high 19 points in the first period, staking Salem to a 16-12 advantage after one.
The Cougars fought back against the deficit in the second, beginning the frame with three straight treys, one by Burns, followed by back-to-back jacks from Jason Sherrell (13 points) that moved ICC in front 21-16.
Chad Willett (16 points) got in on the long range bombing for Salem by dropping in a triple, and the Hounds finished the second with six unanswered points to grab a 25-23 lead at intermission.
Kyle Estes hit a pair of hoops for Salem to kick off the third, before the Cougars made a run midway into the frame to lock things at 32-all before the floor fell through for ICC.
Dusty York (10 points) hit a free throw, and Derek Estes (four points) ended the third with a jumper, sending the Hounds on their late sprint that put the wraps on the senior boys' finals of the Izard County Invitational Tournament.
Jeff Nelson and Lance Powell added two points apiece for Salem.
James Morgan and Michael Martin tallied four points each for the Cougars.
Salem dispatched the Cushman Bulldogs 58-47 in the semifinals Jan. 28, behind 21 points from Willett. Kyle and Derek Estes tallied 10 points each for the Greyhounds against Cushman.
The Cougars took care of former conference member Mammoth Spring 60-39 in the semifinals Jan. 27.
A couple of double-double performers paved the way for ICC's big win.
Jesse Dockins tallied 16 points and 10 assists, while Sherrell added 15 points and 14 rebounds. Burns led the Cougars in scoring with a game-high 17 points.
Logan Lawrence and Trent White logged 10 points apiece for the Bears.