Thayer dealt bad case of deja vu in state quarters
You really can't blame the Thayer Bobcats if they never want to see another person named Grubbs dribbling a basketball in a gymnasium.
Never, ever again.
For the second year in a row, a Marionville Comet with the last name of Grubbs pulled off a big play late in the fourth period, and for the second year in a row, Marionville handed Thayer an exit from the Class 2 state basketball quarterfinals, this time by a count of 31-27 March 11 at Hillcrest High School in Springfield.
With the game tied at 27-all, the Comets' Jake Grubbs split a Bobcat double-team near the free throw line, lost the handle on the ball for a split second and then gathered himself long enough to toss in an off-balance one-hander that turned out to be the game-winning shot with 37 ticks left. This after Grubbs' big brother Paden had been responsible for a similar last-second event that led the Comets past Thayer in last year's quarterfinals.
With Marionville clinging to a 29-27 lead after Grubbs' shot, the Bobcats had a chance to even the score, or pull ahead with a 3-pointer in the last 30 seconds of action, but Thayer couldn't get a favorable look at the basket, giving possession to the Comets.
Thayer (25-5) fouled Kelby Parks with a shade over four seconds remaining on the clock, setting up a one-and-one for Parks and Marionville.
Parks missed the front end, but Marionville's Brick Warth grabbed the biggest board of the night when he snared Parks' errant free throw, denying Thayer possession and forcing the Bobcats to foul with one second left.
Warth went to the charity stripe and knocked down two free throws to set the final score of 31-27, Marionville. Warth also played a big role in Thayer's heartbreaking loss to Marionville (26-3) in last year's quarters, as Paden Grubbs drove the length of the court in nine seconds and dropped the ball off to Warth, who hit the game-wining shot at the buzzer for the Comets. Marionville went on to claim the Class 2 state title last season.
All this came after the Bobcats had managed to erase a nine-point Marionville lead in the third period behind some big-time long-range bombing from Layne Hawkins and M.J. Clark.
Grubbs (game-high 14 points) had given the Comets their biggest lead of the evening, 21-12, on a 3-pointer at the 3:12 mark of the third, when Thayer hooked up its long-range radar.
Hawkins (seven points) jacked a triple at the 2:02 mark, and then Brett Ward (seven points) curled in the paint for a hoop that ended the frame on a 5-0 run for Thayer, pulling the Cats within four, 21-17, after three.
But it was on the back of Clark that the Bobcats rode to their first lead since the first period.
The Comets turned the ball over to start the fourth, and this was all Clark needed to jump-start a personal 6-zip run for Thayer.
Clark busted back-to-back treys, the last one giving Thayer a 23-21 lead at the 6:21 point of the final period. Clark paced the Cats with a team-high 11 points, including three triples, for the game.
Ward shook loose for another gritty move to the hoop a minute later, extending the Bobcats' advantage to their biggest of the night, 25-21.
That would be the last time Thayer would enjoy the lead, as Marionville swiped it back on consecutive 3-point plays.
Blake Setzer turned in an old-fashioned 3-point play, followed by a shot beyond the arc from Garrison Edgar that pushed the margin back to Marionville at 27-25.
Hawkins knotted the game at 27-all with a 15-foot jumper at the 2:08 mark, but a minute and a half later, Grubbs made sure the Comets ended the night on top with his nearly falling down game-winner.
Little had changed since the last time the two squads squared off in the state tournament. Marionville was still a big, physical team that had dominated teams on the backboards this year, while the Bobcats' matchup zone defense had given opposing teams fits in leading Thayer to the District 9 championship.
"They're (Marionville) just such a big team," said Bobcat Head Coach Cliff Hawkins. "They've just pushed people around on the boards all year long. And they play tough man-to-man defense. We knew that rebounding would be a big key against them."
The Bobcats managed to hold their own against Marionville in the rebounding department in the first two periods of play in what turned out to be a grind-it-out first half of play.
The Comets posted just five field goals in the first half of play, while Thayer logged just one, a 3-pointer from Clark that gave Thayer a 3-2 lead early in the game. Ward added a first-period free throw for Thayer, then Marionville got a putback from Setzer and 3-pointer from Grubbs, to take a 7-4 lead after one.
The second period was an even more intensified battle of wills, with neither side able to find any answer for the other side's defense.
Ward knocked in two free throws for at the 5:49 point for Thayer's only points of the second, while Marionville got a pair of hoops from Grubbs, the first with 1:40 left until the half, and the last right before the horn, to give the Comets an 11-6 lead at the half.
Things opened up a bit after intermission, with the Comets grabbing a nine-point lead before the gusty Bobcats forged a comeback in the fourth that just fell a step short of a trip to Columbia and spot in the Class 2 Final Four.
John Tollenaar, still working his way back into playing after a late-season ankle injury, logged two points for the Bobcats.