Column: Charleston is confident after beating Kennett - and vice versa
KENNETT, Mo. — Everything in life depends on your perspective.
For the 1,500-plus fans that squeezed inside the gymnasium at Kennett High School Friday and watched the Indians battle vaunted rival Charleston before falling in the final seconds, 81-76, the ones wearing black-and-gold went home feeling positive about their team’s postseason chances.
“It’s frustrating that you lose a game like this,” second-year Indian coach Andrew Halford said. “But it also gives you confidence going forward. We were right there with these guys. We can compete with the district favorite.”
The Class 3 No. 3-ranked Bluejays (17-3) absolutely are that.
Not only is Charleston unbeaten against district squads this season (including an 81-63 beatdown of the Indians in the SEMO Conference Tournament earlier this season), but it also has won 10 of the past 11 district championships.
“If we keep on playing hard,” Charleston senior shooter Sam Bledsoe said, “and closing games out, we’re going to be OK.”
It isn’t often both teams leave the gym feeling good about themselves, but that was the case Friday.
Halford felt positive because his team handled the Bluejays’ athleticism and defensive pressure in exemplary fashion.
“We didn’t turn it over,” Halford said. “Seven total turnovers for the night. If you would have told us that we would have under 10 turnovers for the game, against Charleston’s pressure, then we’d feel like we’d be in a position to win.”
Which the Indians (15-6) were.
The way Bledsoe saw the game, however, was his team won the game despite:
1. Being on the road, and
2. Not having starters Isaiah Gillespie and Brian Visor, both of whom sat out Friday’s contest.
“They are both big defensive guys,” Bledsoe said of Gillespie and Visor. “They play a big part in our press and how hard we play. They give us energy.”
The two Bluejays are expected to return before district play, which Bledsoe acknowledged will help.
Also, Bledsoe, who finished with 20 points, matching post player Blessin Kimble, and trailing team-leader Terridean Bogan (21 points), isn’t daunted by playing in front of the energized Indian crowd, which is where districts will take place, in fact, he “loves it.”
“I love it,” Bledsoe said. “I love it. It gives me energy whenever I’m out here and I hear people yelling at me and yelling against me.
“I dig it.”
Bledsoe knocked down critical free throws late in the game after missing one early in the final quarter and that mistake stuck in his mind.
“I was rushing it,” Bledsoe said of the miss. “I shoot tons of shots, so when I miss one it is aggravating.”
He didn’t miss late and neither did his teammates.
The Bluejays made 19 of 23 free throws, while Kennett, which is ranked No. 7 in Class 3, missed 8 of 15.
“The kicker was,” Halford lamented, “shooting under 50 percent from the free-throw line.”
So as the sun rises this morning, Halford will dwell on missed opportunities, but also fully believes his team is capable of playing with Charleston. While Bledsoe will ponder just how dominant Charleston would have been with a full arsenal of talent.
That makes the (probable, if not just possible) looming district match-up one of incredible anticipation for the fans of both teams (and the media, truth be told).
“Our guys have a lot of momentum and confidence right now,” Halford said. “We’ve had some big road wins throughout the year, so I don’t know that it matters where we play. We have the right mindset and we’re driven right now.
“And they are driven right now to compete at a very high level.”
Halford could have been speaking of either team with that statement.
Tom Davis is the regional sports editor for Semoball.com and the Southeast Missourian
- Basketball Roundup, Jan. 31 (01/31/20)