The hoop may have seemed infinitely smaller than normal to Climax Springs Friday night in the Class 1 District 7 finals at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar.

The hoop may have seemed infinitely smaller than normal to Climax Springs Friday night in the Class 1 District 7 finals at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar. 

The third-seeded Cougars were taking on a top-seeded Fair Play team they beat by 18 points in a prior meeting on the road earlier this season and while the defense may have sufficed, it was a new night and the offense did not exactly carry over in a 52-39 loss to the Hornets. 

“That has been our ‘M.O.’ (method of operation) all year long is defense, defense, defense. I thought we played good enough defense to win, we just did not shoot it well enough and what do you say, it just happened,” Climax Springs coach James Butterfield said of his team’s tough shooting night. “We just did not shoot it well and it is alright. The way I feel about it, we played championship defense and our offense just has to get a little bit better. All of our shooters and guards are young so it is just one of those nights.” 

Fair Play jumped out to an early 4-0 lead on a night it never trailed and when the Cougars tied the game at 4-4 with under four minutes to go in the first quarter, the Hornets proceeded to score nine unanswered points and held Climax Springs scoreless for over eight minutes. Even then, the Cougars only trailed 15-12 at halftime as they sought to attack Fair Play’s packed 1-3-1 zone defense.

“That is the trick. They really were living inside their heads after the first few minutes and I was just telling them, ‘You are just going to have to be ok with missing,’” Butterfield said of trying to fix the rusty shooting performance. “When you are ok with missing, your confident and it does not matter if you miss, then you make shots. But, it is just something they’ll have to get to at some point. We only graduate two so we’ll be right back here next year.” 

Unfortunately for Climax Springs, the team just could not find a way to shake off that rust and find its groove. A 12-4 Fair Play run in the third quarter pushed the Hornet lead to 31-20 by the end of the period and Fair Play pushed its advantage to as many as 16 points in the fourth as the Cougars continued to struggle. A 29 percent mark at the free throw line did not help matters, either. 

Climax Springs ramped up its defensive pressure, forcing 11 of Fair Play’s 21 total turnovers in the fourth quarter alone, but could not cut the gap by more than nine points as the clock, in addition to the rim, became the team’s enemy. 

Climax Springs sophomore Mark Henderson led the Cougars with 15 points and senior Pake Moppin knocked down nine points of his own in the program’s first district championship appearance since the 2011 season. Butterfield said his club has come a long way as it finishes the season 19-9 and he took some time to credit his seniors in making that happen.  

“Helped build the program back up and that is always something you really appreciate. Three years ago we won three games so they climbed up all the way to 19 wins, really good season,” the coach pointed out. “Won the Osceola Tournament and played for a district title, that is hard to do. I don’t care who you are, it is hard to play for a district title. We took the long road to get to this district title and did not have the easy road so I’m proud of them.”

Getting back to a district championship game was undoubtedly a good feeling for Butterfield and crew and he also pointed to the Cougar fans who “came out in droves” to watch the girls and boys on the same night have an opportunity to bring home a title. The good news is that only two seniors graduate so the experience of playing in this game should be helpful. 

“Offensively, we just have to get better but you can do that in your offseason. You can shoot and put them in situations where there is pressure on them and things like that,” the coach pointed out. “You can’t simulate playing in a district championship game and they just did that so they’ll take that with them and it will make them better. 

“I don’t know where we’ll be next year, mixing things up, but we’ll be ready.”

It should also add a little motivation. 

“There are tears and stuff, everyone is sad and it hurts. Especially, because we beat them once before, but it should motivate them and get them going,” the coach said. “They were all nodding their heads ready to get back to work.” 

Time will tell what the next chapter has in store.