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story.lead_photo.caption Quinn Kusgen's game-winning half-court shot against Father Tolton back on leap day concluded one of the most memorable games in the history of Blair Oaks, a 58-57 double-overtime victory for the Class 3 District 9 Tournament championship in Eldon. Photo by Jason Strickland / News Tribune.

In one snapshot, there's an array of emotions on display in the background as a young basketball player shoots likely the most memorable shot he'll ever take, and one those in attendance won't ever forget either.

Some fans have their hands on or above their head. Others remain seated as most stand anticipating the conclusion of the double-overtime contest.

The facial expressions reveal a range of emotions in the moment, from those who don't believe the shot will be significant to those who have either a glimmer of hope it goes in or anticipate the relief that would come if it doesn't go through the hoop. Not long after, just about all had the same expression with their mouths wide open in disbelief.

Blair Oaks boys basketball coach Ryan Fick has relived this moment, well, a lot.

"I've seen it from, not only our camera angle, but from different angles in the gym," Fick said. "It's neat to watch. It seems like every time I watch it I see something new, maybe a reaction of a fan or something different from one of the players on the floor or off the bench."

The Blair Oaks Falcons defeated the Father Tolton Trailblazers 58-57 to win the Class 3 District 9 Tournament championship in front of a crowd that filled the gym at Eldon High School from floor to ceiling.

Area hoops fans were eager to see more from a matchup that had produced four single-digit results in five games, including a 66-64 overtime victory for the Falcons early in the season.

The ending of the double-overtime classic was nothing short of spectacular with Father Tolton senior Jonny Berndt catching a pass from Chase Martin, who wrestled for a loose ball on the floor, at the top of the key and dropping a 3-pointer in what was at first believed to be the game-winner.

After a jubilant court storming by the Trailblazer student section, 1.6 seconds were added to the clock and Blair Oaks sophomore Quinn Kusgen created as good a look as he could from half court and set off a hysterical celebration for Blair Oaks players, coaches and fans.

The top-ranked team in Class 3 prevailed against the fourth-ranked team.

But how those final seconds transpired made it easy to forget the quality of the rest of the game, which lived up to the hype in itself.

"I've watched the whole game probably just two or three times," Fick said. "I know the ending was unbelievable, but even if it had just ended normally, in a normal fashion in two overtimes, it was still a great high school basketball game even before the ending."

At times, it seemed neither team would lead by more than five. Then there were other spurts when the Trailblazers were pretty dominant.

Father Tolton led 15-13 at the end of the first quarter, but a pair of 3s and a layup quickly put the Trailblazers ahead by 10 at 23-13 a couple minutes into the second quarter.

It took a team effort for the Trailblazers, who were without leading scorer Coban Porter because of a knee injury, as six players scored at least six points.

Jevon Porter scored 15 points, and Berndt and Nate Schwartze each had 10 in the game.

"Nate Schwartze really stepped up his game and kind of took on more of a leadership and scoring role," Fick said. "Then obviously Jevon Porter continues to get better."

Blair Oaks came back with Kusgen and Eric Northweather attacking the basket and the Falcons led 30-29 at halftime.

Northweather finished with game highs in points (21) and rebounds (11), while Kusgen didn't reach double figures in points until the final shot.

Luke Northweather was a force inside with 19 points and nine boards, missing only one of his eight shots.

The start of the second half belonged to the Trailblazers, who led by as many as eight in the third quarter.

The margin was down to 43-39 to start the fourth, and the game was tied at 49 heading to overtime and at 54 heading to the second overtime period.

The game decided a district champion but could have easily been played as a state semifinal.

"It sure felt like it," Fick said. "I don't know that I've been a part of a game at that high of a level. The competition and guys making play after play. We would make a big play and then they would answer. And then we would come back and answer. It just went back and forth."

Blair Oaks did reach the state semifinals with a 72-35 win against Butler in sectionals and a 57-50 victory against Fair Grove in the quarterfinals.

A 15-0 run for Cardinal Ritter in the state semifinal led to a 68-54 defeat and a tie for third place and a 28-3 record, the most wins in school history.

Cardinal Ritter won the state title handily the next day with an 88-32 victory against Charleston.

Fick said he considers the 2000-01 Blair Oaks team that won the Class 2A championship the best boys basketball team the school has had, but added the 2019-20 team is certainly one of the best.

"You ponder the season that happened and what a great season it was," Fick said. "It's just been so surreal almost that you kind of pinch yourself and remind yourself that it all really did happen."

An 8x10 print his grandmother bought him of Kusgen about to release that shot against Father Tolton can serve as a reminder of that unbelievable game and the season as a whole.

"That's one that I can specifically remember looking at the expressions of the people in the background," Fick said of the photo.

III

For the second straight season, the toughest regular-season game for the Blair Oaks football team came in the season opener, the Kickoff Classic, against Maryville at William Jewell College.

The Falcons were playing their first game since winning the 2018 Class 2 state championship. They lost several seniors from that team and would be starting Dylan Hair, a freshman quarterback, against the Spoofhounds.

Hair did just fine, throwing for 154 yards with two touchdown passes and two interceptions in a 23-14 win.

Blair Oaks built a 23-0 lead in the game's first 14 minutes and nearly shut out Maryville for the first time in almost two full seasons, but the Spoofhounds scored a pair of touchdowns in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter.

Since losing to Maryville in the Class 3 semifinals in 2017, the Falcons have defeated the Spoofhounds in back-to-back season openers.

"A win's a win," Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said after the game. "We're going to come in tomorrow, and we'll treat it like a loss and be humble and watch film and get better, but dadgum, did we play well.

"Things are going to happen. But that's the No. 6 team in the state over the past 10 years, they're 93-7 in their last 100 games. That's not a team that is going to go away."

And neither is this game. Blair Oaks will continue to play Maryville in its season opener in the 2020 and '21 seasons.

III

It took a few tries, but the Blair Oaks girls basketball team finally got a road win against the California Lady Pintos.

The regular-season finale between the Tri-County Conference rivals was close throughout, with the game being tied at 37 heading to the fourth quarter.

Blair Oaks, entering the game with a 13-11 record, got 18 points from Mallorie Fick, 16 from Alyssa Hargus and 11 from Bailey Rissmiller in a 57-51 victory against the third-ranked team in Class 3.

It was the Lady Falcon's first win at California since 2014.

 

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