Earlier this season, Republic welcomed back its only boys state champion basketball team in school history to that point—the 1963 Class M state champions that featured All-Staters Howard Arndt and Don Carlson. Fifty years after that seminal moment in Tiger sports history, Republic has another boys basketball champion that will be long remembered.
Republic overcame a six point fourth quarter deficit to defeat Normandy 54-51 and capture the Class 4 state title on Mar. 16 at Mizzou Arena. The win capped a magical season for the Tigers, as Republic posted a 28-4 record in head coach Trevyor Fisher’s first season at the helm.
“I’m still not quite sure it has sunk in all the way,” said Fisher. “Just saying we are state champions still sounds weird. I know this is something I will never forget in my life and I can’t explain how excited I am for our kids.”
After a relatively uneventful trek through District, Sectional and state quarterfinal play, Republic turned up the drama when the Tigers reached Columbia. Republic needed a put back from All-State senior Marcus Miller in the final seconds to defeat Liberty North 39-38 in the state semifinals, which advanced Republic to the state title game.
Republic led Normandy 22-12 early in the second quarter, but the Vikings turned up the defensive pressure and went on a long run to lead 26-25 at halftime after forcing 12 Republic turnovers in the half. Normandy upped its lead to 42-36 at the end of the third quarter behind the play of Kevin McLemore, the younger brother of Kansas’ standout freshman Ben McLemore.
“I just told them to keep getting stops and rebounding on the defensive end,” said Fisher. “I knew if we could do that our offense would make enough plays down the stretch. I felt pretty good about our chances even though we were down six. I think our players believed the same thing as well.”
“In the fourth quarter, we really emphasized getting stops,” said senior Jake Fletcher. “As a team, we knew that down the stretch the game was going to come down to whichever team would be able to execute on the defensive end.”
The Tigers opened the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run to take a 44-42 lead, and hit some crucial free throws in the final minutes to earn the state title. Junior All-State honoree Cody Geiger led the Tigers with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
“Cody’s performance was a very clutch effort,” said Fisher. “He has the ability to score around the basket in traffic and for him to be able to do that against their athletes was incredible. Not only did he score 20 points but to get 10 rebounds against a talented team like that was special. He really gave us the lift we needed on the offensive end of the floor.”
Although Geiger’s effort keyed the Tiger victory in the state title game, Republic featured a balanced line-up all season long, with seemingly a different Tiger stepping up to lead the team each game. That balance made the Tigers a dangerous and versatile team—and one that was hard to game plan for opponents.
“That has really been the fun part about coaching this team,” said Fisher. “On any given night, you don’t know who is going to lead us in scoring. From an opposition standpoint, you really can’t game plan on any certain player to take away. The best part of that is everyone on the team accepts this and uses it to our advantage. It makes it nice as a coach because if a team takes away a certain part of your offense you have other options you can look at. In saying that, we always had a mind frame of playing inside-out to start the game. If teams took away our posts, then our guards stepped up.”
“I feel like it gave us an advantage because teams couldn’t really game plan around one or two guys. They have to respect everyone’s ability to score the basketball,” said Miller. “They have to respect us all and that gives us an advantage.”
Entering this season, the Tigers felt like they had the talent to have a nice year. Republic opened some eyes early on by winning its own tournament with a 56-46 victory over perennial state powerhouse Hillcrest in the championship game. The Tigers followed that up by winning the Gold Division title at the annual Blue & Gold Tournament—the Tigers’ second straight Blue & Gold crown.
Republic did hit a bump in the road in early February, though, in dropping back-to-back games at Nixa and Willard. The Eagles’ Austin Ruder hit a game-winner in a 43-41 win on Feb. 8, while Willard rolled to a 61-42 victory four nights later.
“I felt like we really competed and played well against Nixa and had the heartbreak of Ruder hitting a game winning shot,” said Fisher. “I’m not sure we got over that tough loss when we played Willard the next game. For the first time all year we didn’t compete and played soft. After that game we got refocused and closed the year out by playing how we had all year long.”
“We learned that we could handle anything that came our way after that,” said Miller. “Losing back-to-back games was tough, but we knew if we came back and worked as hard as we could in practice we would get better from it.”
Properly refocused, Republic did not lose again, reeling off nine straight victories. The streak included a 59-48 victory in the regular season finale over Branson, which captured the Central Ozarks Conference (Large Division) crown in the wake of the Tigers’ losses to Nixa and Willard.
This year’s state championship is extra special since it comes in the “golden anniversary” of the school’s only other boys basketball state championship in 1963. On Dec. 20, Republic recognized the 1963 state title team and the school’s multi-year All-State honorees. Members of the 1963 team and its coach, Leland Brown, have been regular supporters of this year’s team throughout the season.
“Obviously it means a lot, especially to have had a chance to meet the majority of the ‘63 team earlier this year,” said Fisher of the “golden anniversary” title. “I know our kids enjoyed watching how that team still remains friends all these years later and I think this team will do the same as they grow older.”
“It's incredible to me,” said senior Grant Hancock of winning state titles 50 years apart. “Those players were so supportive of our team and I couldn't be more grateful for the time we got to spend with them.”
“It is crazy that we were able to do exactly what they did 50 years ago,” said Miller. “It was an honor to meet those men and to be classified the same way as them is just awesome.”
This is the second straight season that the basketball-crazy community of Republic has celebrated a state championship, after the Lady Tigers brought home a Class 4 crown in 2012.
“This community has great support of its athletic teams and especially basketball,” said Fisher. “To see the huge crowd in Columbia and then the support when we got back was incredible. Hopefully this is something the community can rally behind and bring everyone closer together.”
In his first season, Fisher set the bar impossibly high by posting a 28-4 record and winning a state championship. Oh, and Fisher also garnered Class 4 Coach of the Year honors from the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association for good measure.
“I understand that these types of seasons don’t come along that often,” said Fisher. “However, we aren’t going to worry about next year right now. We plan on letting this sink in for a few months and get back to work in the summer time. I really enjoyed coaching this team. As a first year coach, you worry about your kids buying in to your system. They were great from day one and were a pleasure to coach. I am very proud that this group was my first-ever team. I will never forget them.”
After winning the school’s first boys basketball state championship in 50 years, it is likely that this group of Tigers will not soon be forgotten by anyone.
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Ozark Preps Illustrated.