For Oran, two basketball teams is twice as nice as boys and girls program gun for state titles
ORAN, Mo. -- When the Oran boys basketball team steps onto the hardwood Thursday afternoon for a MSHSAA Class 2 semifinal at the Hearnes Center in Columbia, Missouri, the fun will be just beginning for the Eagles.
That's because a few hours later on that same court the Oran girls will attempt to add another first -- in the form of a state championship appearance -- to a season chalk full of historic achievements.
For the Eagles, two teams this weekend at the Show-Me Showdown final four means double the fun with the girls program reaching state for the first time in school history, and the boys returning after a four-year absence.
Along the way, the two teams have fed off each other by providing support and cheering sections during playoff contests. The boys' emotional win this past Saturday provided a boost for the girls in their first-ever quarterfinal, a game the Eagles won 72-69.
That won't change this week with both teams riding up, practicing and even eating together as both look to advance to Saturday's finals. And, of course, both teams will continue to encourage each other from the stands or the sidelines.
"Actually, I think that's what pushing us is having the boys here to cheer for us and then us cheering for the boys," girls senior Brianna Stause said. "It pushes us to do better, and it's just amazing how we're going together."
The Oran boys (21-8) take on Sacred Heart (25-5) at 3:20 p.m. Thursday while the girls (27-3) will do battle with Adrian (29-1) at 6:40 p.m.
To reach this point, the two Oran teams followed similar paths in Saturday's quarterfinal triumphs. Both trailed by double digits during their game, with the boys down 10 in the second half and the girls down 10 in the first half. Both the Eagles and the Lady Eagles ended up winning by three, as well.
The boys' 55-52 comeback win over Hartville preceded the girls' 72-69 triumph against Neelyville, and provided first a spark and then belief when the Lady Eagles trailed 33-23 with about two minutes left in the first half.
"When you're cheering for the boys, and they're coming off a win like that it does get you pumped up and ready to go, but I also think that Neelyville didn't expect for us to come off like that, especially when they got their 10-point run," Stause said. "They thought they had it in the bag, but with the boys (being) 10 points down, and they came back from it, that just (showed) us to don't believe just because you're down, you can't come back from it."
And after the girls cheered the on boys during their tight victory, Eagles coach Joe Shoemaker and his kids stuck around for the second game.
"The girls do a great job of supporting us and we feel them we owe them that support," Shoemaker said. "I don't think there was a single person from Oran that left until after the (girls) game was over."
Shoemaker and girls coach Ethan Evans believes there will be a similar atmosphere this weekend in Columbia. Each team is guaranteed two games with third-place contests Friday.
"There's so many people that have a connection with either a boy or a girl on the team that I expect a large part of Oran to be there," Shoemaker said.
The last time the boys advanced to state, in 2013, they finished fourth, falling 65-63 to Iberia in the third-place game. While Shoemaker guided the Eagles to state that year, no player remains from that squad.
So while it's the third state trip for the boys program, it will be a new experience for all the players, not just the girls. And for junior Cole Priggel, this weekend has been something he dreamed of ever since he saw his cousins, Kody Moore and Jacob Priggel, help lead the Eagles during the last trip to the final four.
"I've been thinking about it ever since I was a little kid," said Priggel, whose left eye is still discolored after getting kicked in a sectional win over Hayti a week ago. "When we went to state ... I've wanted to go ever since then."
So for both teams, nerves will likely be a factor. This is the biggest stage most of the players have ever been on. The key, according to Shoemaker, is to follow standard routines and try not to deviate from the norm.
For the boys, that means a continued focus on rebounding, especially on the defensive side, as the team doesn't have a player taller than 6-foot-1. Sacred Heart has five players 6-4 or taller, including 6-6 junior center Colby Young, who's averaging nearly 10 rebounds a game.
It also means sharing the ball. In five playoff games, starting in the district tournament, Oran has had three different leading scores. Max Priggel had 24 points in the win over Hartville and has led the team in scoring in two other playoff contests. Cole had a team-high 28 in the sectional win over Hayti, even after the kick to the eye. And Jacob Shoemaker poured in 27 points during a district semifinal win over Valle Catholic.
Max leads the team with 19.8 points per game, and Jacob isn't far behind with 15.6 points. Layne Johnson is third with 9.9, and Cole is fourth with 9.7 ppg.
Those four are complemented by other rotation pieces, including freshman Todd Priggel, Cole's brother, Drew Reischman and Wyatt Kinney.
"It's a big stage, and I'm sure they're going to be nervous," coach Shoemaker said. "But do what got us here. Play the same style, keep in mind how we try do things and just try to stay consistent with your routines."
While the boys' team is full of juniors and seniors, there are only two upperclassmen on the girls' side -- Stause and junior MacKenzie Graviett. The team's leading scorer is sophomore Leah Cauble, who eclipsed 1,000 points in the season against Neelyville. She finished with 33 points in the win and enters state averaging 34.5 ppg.
Jessie Long provides an inside presence and has posted back-to-back double-doubles, including 15 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday's quarterfinal.
With so many freshmen and sophomores playing key roles -- ninth-grade guard Kaylee Payne is second on the team in scoring with 11.4 ppg -- the team hasn't wavered in crucial moments. Leading by two with seconds left against Neelyville, the Eagles held on for the victory.
That quarterfinal victory was the latest in a string of firsts this season. In early January, Oran claimed the Delta New Year's Invitational title with its first win in five years over Saxony Lutheran. Then, on March 2, the Eagles won a sectional for the first time in program history with a 73-54 win over Puxico. They continued to make history in their first quarterfinal appearance by advancing to state.
"It's just awesome to know what these girls have accomplished this year," Evans said. "Being the first in the girls' program history to accomplish the things they have just helps our team grow together and helps the younger athletes come in and know they can achieve things like this."
As the season progressed and playoffs approached, the team began to silently adopt a mantra, according to Cauble. The younger players wanted to win for Stause and ensure her final season was a rousing success.
"Towards districts, towards the end, we were just like, 'Let's do this for Bri.'" Cauble said.
And the ensuing ride has far exceeded Stause's pre-season expectations.
"We had a great team," Stause said, "but I didn't think we'd make it to the final four."
That's where Stause and her teammates are, though.
So with the boys looking on, the Lady Eagles will look for another first Thursday -- a state title berth. And then, a state championship Saturday.
"It's been awesome -- for the kids, for the school, for the community," Evans said. "It's just been an awesome ride, and we've tried to enjoy every little thing and go to Columbia and hopefully bring back a state championship."
The fifth-year coach was talking about his girls' squad. He could have just as easily been talking about the boys.
That's the type of year it's been for the basketball programs at Oran. The Eagles hope it continues this weekend.