SPRINGFIELD — The Vashon Wolverines aren't terrible.
"They're probably one of the top couple teams in the state, regardless of class," Blair Oaks coach Ryan Fick said after the Falcons' season ended Friday with a 69-42 defeat against the Wolverines in the Class 4 semifinals at JQH Arena. "I was proud of our effort and the way we competed today."
Vashon has a pair of Division I signees aiming to end their high school careers with a state championship, with that chance coming at 2 p.m. today against Westminster Christian Academy (23-5).
But the top-ranked Wolverines showed they've got skills across the board, getting points from seven players and steals from six.
"When you get to this point, it's going to be multiple people that are going to have to step up and probably it's gonna be somebody different each game," Vashon coach Tony Irons said.
Blair Oaks, which entered the game ranked sixth by the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association, ends its season at 24-5 and a third-place trophy for the second straight year.
And for the second straight year, the Falcons didn't have a third-place game awaiting them following a semifinal loss. Barstow withdrew from the state tournament Wednesday, automatically advancing Westminster Christian to the title game.
"I would love to have the opportunity to play the third-place game," Fick said. "Just another chance to end on a high note and another chance to be with those seniors again. But it happens, it's what life has dealt us and nothing surprises us anymore with with COVID and all that stuff. We made the most of it. We'll look back on this and be proud of what we accomplished regardless of not playing that game."
The semifinal began about as well as Blair Oaks could have hoped for. The Falcons countered Wolverine steals with steals of their own, leading to a 6-2 lead about three minutes into the game.
After a scrambling and scoreless first 50 seconds, Luke Northweather caught an in-bounds pass near the basket and scored the game's first points.
Quinn Kusgen later snatched away a pass in transition, Brysan Jeffries knocked down a jumper and Carson Prenger turned a steal into a pair of free throws for a 6-2 lead at the 4:54 mark of the opening quarter.
"I thought our game plan was solid, and we executed it well in the zone," Fick said. "We knew that we were better off probably trying to make them shoot jump shots. As well as they attack the rim, I thought we had them off-balance early on. They missed some shots and we did a pretty good job of rebounding, and we were getting back in transition and getting our defense set."
But a Northweather free throw midway through the first quarter gave Blair Oaks its final lead at 7-6 and Vashon reeled off 14 straight points in the next five and a half minutes of game time.
Keshon Gilbert, who's signed with UNLV, got one of his game-high five steals and VCU signee Nick Kern slammed home a two-handed dunk for a 12-7 lead for Vashon (15-1).
A half-court trap turned the Falcons over early in the second quarter and Recko Bailey hit from the corner for a 17-7 lead.
A Caleb Jones three-point play capped off the run at the 6:29 mark of the second quarter.
"Just happy to have Caleb step up the way that he did today," Irons said after the senior had 11 points off the bench. "This was one of his best games that he's had all year."
Jones was one of six Wolverines to score at least eight points. Kern led with 14 points, Kennard Davis was solid in the post with 13 points and four steals, and Tre'Von Love matched Jones' 11 points.
"I thought we executed really well against the zone in the second quarter," Irons said. "We didn't settle for as many jump shots, and we were starting to get to the basket a little bit and we did a good job of offensive rebounding. And then once we were able to get some of those to go in, then we were able to set our defense up."
The Falcons answered the Wolverines' scores for much of the second quarter, but trailed 30-14 after Kern flew in for a putback with 2:47 remaining in the half.
And after a turnover at the 2:24 mark, the action stalled as Blair Oaks remained settled in its zone defense.
Gilbert let the clock run down to under 10 seconds and pulled up for a 3-pointer at the left wing to close out the half.
"I thought we were still in a pretty good spot," Fick said. "If he doesn't hit that 3 it's a 16-point game. We felt comfortable with that. We didn't really want to extend and go man and give up a layup. Obviously that's a dagger shot for them to run off two-plus minutes and then hit that 3 at the end of the half. That's the way it goes."
Blair Oaks switched to man-to-man in the second half, and the margin grew to 26 at 46-20 when Love drove the lane for a layup.
A Jones steal and layup made it 54-26.
The third quarter ended at 57-30 after Blair Oaks' Zach Herigon got to the rim for a finger roll with :18 on the clock.
"I was proud of our kids in the second half, though," Fick said. "I thought we did a much better job on the offensive end. When they forced us out of the zone to play man, you could see right away why we weren't playing man from the beginning. They spread out, they've got five guys that can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. They cut so well away from the ball."
Northweather's post-ups were effective and led to him scoring a game-high 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting to go with a game-high 10 rebounds. He also had a game-high three blocks and a team-high three steals.
"He was kind of in the same boat as far as trying to adjust to the speed of the game," Fick said, "but I think in the second half he really showed why he is an elite player and a guy that's going to play at the next level."
Kusgen added 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
"They're guys that are gym rats that live and breathe basketball," Fick said. "They're gonna have a sour taste in their mouth about this and it will drive them and motivate them in the offseason just as it did last year."
Justin Backes, Jake Closser and Prenger had their high school playing days come to an end.
"Got to give the seniors a lot of credit lasting four years," Fick said, "and what they meant to our program from a leadership standpoint, coming to practice every day, grinding and leading us with their effort, their attitude."