POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. - With their Region XVI schedule wrapped up, the Raiders are sitting in third place with a potential game against either Mineral Area or Moberly Area looming in the Region XVI semifinals.
Three Rivers lost to Mineral Area 78-61 Saturday at the Libla Family Sports Complex to finish their Region XVI schedule 3-5 and keep coach Gene Bess two wins shy of 1,300 wins in his 50-year career with two regular-season games remaining, both at home, against Arkansas Baptist and West Kentucky CTC.
"I knew going into the season that our talent wasn't commensurate with our schedule. To have won 17 games, that's a pretty good year," Bess said. "We just don't have the attitude, the focus to play with the big guys and that is what I saw tonight. We're close. We're close. But when we really needed that great effort, we didn't get it."
The Raiders (17-11, 3-5 Region XVI) are currently even with MSU-West Plains in the Region XVI standings, but Three Rivers swept the Grizzlies (10-18, 2-4) in three games this season and the Grizzlies would need to win their remaining games against both Moberly Area and Mineral Area to leapfrog the Raiders. West Plains previously lost to Mineral Area 85-75 and to Moberly Area 110-93.
With Mineral Area (26-1, 5-1) and Moberly Area (21-7, 6-1) both picking up region wins on Saturday, the Greyhounds keep a half-game lead in the region standings but could lose their top spot. The two split their region games with the home team winning each time, but the Cardinals currently hold the tiebreaker against Moberly Area due to their record against non-region Division I opponents. If Mineral Area wins its final two region games against West Plains and State Fair, it will earn the top seed going into the region tournament.
Three Rivers lost to Mineral Area by one point in Park Hills after the Cardinals made a 3 in the final seconds. Moberly Area has beaten the Raiders by 35 and 28 points.
Tallon Fonda had 17 points and five rebounds to lead the Raiders on Saturday. Hayden Sprenkel had 12 points and four rebounds and Kinyon Hodges got 11 points, six steals, four assists and two rebounds.
Mineral Area committed turnovers on its first three possessions and was averaging a turnover a minute through the first 10 minutes of the game.
The Raiders consequently jumped out to an 11-3 lead, capped by a long 2 from Hardimon with a kickout assist by Hodges.
"The starting five, we kept the same energy the whole time," Hardimon said. "I know shots weren't falling tonight, but we have to keep playing defense and keep our mindset right."
The Cardinals, fifth in the country in points allowed per game, settled down and took their first lead with 8 1/2 minutes on the clock after Angelo Stuart got a steal and a three-point play after Sprenkel attempted to draw the charge.
It was the first of three lead changes with Mineral Area keeping the lead after they made a 3 with under 7 minutes to go.
"We got off to a good start and I think our guys got the idea that they could just show up and keep doing it. We have to play our hearts out to compete against the better teams. We just kind of backed off and quit attacking with the ball," Bess said. "On defense, we didn't rotate well. We're kind of at the mercy of really good defense that involves rotation. It's pretty tough to do what we do and we had some guys out there that acted like they hadn't practiced and didn't understand what we're doing."
It was the beginning of a nine-point run that put the Cardinals up eight and left the Raiders in the bonus.
Fonda, Hodges and Austin Parker scored on three straight baskets for the Raiders to cut the lead to two.
Dionte Raines had a putback with 20 seconds left and then was fouled on a long 3 at the buzzer, but made just one free throw to give Mineral Area a 32-27 lead at halftime.
"We have not been consistent with our effort on defense is what has killed us," Bess said. "We were well-prepared. We played well for about five minutes. They're a pretty good team. They started working the ball a little bit and our guys kind of lost their focus and the next thing you know, the game is out of reach."
Mineral Area started the second half with a 20-5 run to take a 20-point lead and Three Rivers never got closer than 11 points the rest of the game. The Cardinals shot 51.7% in the second half and 44.4 in the first half. After starting the game with 10 turnovers in 10 minutes, they had 13 total in the first half and 19 for the game.
Stuart powered the Cardinals in the second half and finished with 25 points after getting six in the first half. Kevin Legardy added 17 points and Malevy Leons got 11.
"Our history basically has been that we don't finish games. We let a team that is a little more talented than us kind of dominate us," Bess said. "I felt we'd gotten past that because West Plains is a good team. Then we went to Little Rock and they were a good team. Then we went to West Memphis and they were a good team. Not to the caliber of (Mineral Area) but close. We looked tonight like we weren't competitive. We weren't together as a team."
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic