Receiving Class 1 third-place medals isn’t exactly where the Drexel boys’ basketball team pictured themselves at the end of the season.
“It’s hard to sit here and be happy,” Drexel head coach Dennis Bolton said after a 65-64 overtime loss to Eminence. “For nine years, we were planning on winning a state championship when we were seniors. Everything we have done was working toward that.”
But Eminence got in the way in the semifinals March 7 at the Hearnes Center in Columbia.
The Bobcats started out with a 19-13 lead at the end of the first quarter and had a 35-33 advantage at halftime. Drexel was still ahead 47-43 at the end of the third quarter, but in the fourth quarter, Eminence stepped things up, fighting back in the final minutes to knot the score at 56-56, sending the game into overtime.
In overtime, Drexel started out with a basket each from seniors Trevor Stewart and CJ Bolton to lead 60-58. After a three-pointer from the Redwings, the Bobcats responded with a bucket from junior Javyn Johnston and another from Stewart to give Drexel a 64-59 advantage with less than 40 seconds left.
“Daniel Roberts and Trevor Stewart stepped up big and made some big points for us,” Dennis Bolton said. “They tried not to guard them. They tried to guard my four (Bolton, Johnston, Trevor Cooley and Cody Russell) with five and Stewart did a great job of stepping up and making some points.”
Eminence came back from a timeout with a three-pointer to close the gap to 64-62, then called another timeout with just 25 seconds left to play. The Redwings fouled Johnston, who missed the free throw and Eminence sunk a three-pointer at the buzzer to win the game.
Drexel was led in scoring by Bolton with 20 points and Johnston with 16 points. Stewart had 13 points, Cooley had nine and Russell added six.
“My personal goal and role of this team is to lead it,” Cooley said. “I’m the point guard and I have to lead the team. Ever since that loss, I knew it was going to suck. We all knew it sucked. We were sitting in the locker room and I was just trying to think of the best way to handle this. I tried kicking doors and I tried everything. But the best way I figured out was to be positive.”
“The negative sucked,” he added. “But I was just being positive and encouraging my team to do this. I knew we were going to have to face it somehow and you can’t just not go out there and then look stupid twice and not just once.”
It was almost easy for the Bobcats to clinch that third place title with a 75-50 victory over Meadville March 8 at Mizzou Arena.
“As you can tell, we are excited,” CJ Bolton said. “We won third place. I’ve just been in a haze since yesterday’s game. I just knew the only thing our team could do was come out and play today. We just all tried to stay positive and keep our heads up. We know that everything happens for a reason.”
The Bobcats came roaring out with a 30-16 advantage by the end of the first quarter and led 43-24 at halftime. By the end of the third quarter, Drexel had a 58-36 lead and in the fourth quarter, outscored Meadville 17-14 to seal the victory.
“That’s the way our offense is designed,” Dennis Bolton said, “it’s more penetrating. (Against Eminence), we were forcing shots, whereas today, we would run through the offense and make two or three cuts to give us that opportunity...(Eminence) did a nice job of stopping our offense and today, they had a little bit of trouble stepping in front of us.”
Drexel was led in scoring by Johnston with 24 and CJ Bolton with 23 points. Cooley had 12 points and Russell and Stewart had eight points each.
The Bobcats end the season with a 30-2 record.
“I couldn’t be any more prouder of these young men,” Dennis Bolton said. “Everything we have talked about this year has been right here, right now. We can’t change the past, we can’t influence the future, but we can do what can do, right here, right now. I’m very proud of them. They came back and did what we needed to do. I thought out defense was very nice, we did a great job and did a better job rebounding and finished the game.”
The Drexel seniors, Russell, Cooley, Stewart, Bolton and Roberts, end their four-year careers with 99 wins under their belts.
“It’s been an outstanding ride and I’ve been blessed to have had an opportunity to work with them,” Coach Bolton said. “A lot of us love our kids, but we don’t get the opportunity to spend as much time as I have got to spend with them. And I’ve got five of them.”