GRAHAM, Mo. – The Jefferson Eagles won the Class 1 District 16 championship Thursday night, defeating Stanberry 54-31. For most teams, winning the district championship is a big accomplishment, for the Eagles, it was just another checkpoint on the road to their main objective.
“It’s just another step toward obtaining our goal — and that’s going to Springfield,” Jefferson guard Steven Chor said.
Jefferson immediately put to rest any real hope that the Bulldogs had of pulling off the upset. Clayton Merrigan scored first, then Koby Stoll, followed by Chase Farnan and finally, Nathan Jermain. The Eagles led 10-0 just three-and-a-half minutes into the game.
“We got off to a great start offensively, but defensively they were outstanding the whole night,” Eagles coach Tim Jermain said. “They were at this point where we wanted to be and so I think we were really focused and ready to play.”
Stanberry made the game interesting after calling timeout to stall Jefferson’s 10-0 run. Cole Durbin scored five-straight for the Bulldogs. Chor ended the run with a layup, but Durbin and Aiden Gregory combined for three points to end the quarter and make the score 12-8. The Eagles did their part to help the Bulldogs, committing five fouls in the first quarter.
Jefferson began the second quarter with a 10-4 run to push its lead to 10. Much like their start to the first quarter, the Eagles took turns scoring. Three different players scored during the stretch, but it was Merrigan who led the way offensively with 12 points in the first half.
“Clayton is just a tough matchup, I really thought they would have trouble guarding him in the post or finding someone who could stay in front of him,” Tim Jermain said. “I thought he did a really good job of staying aggressive.”
The Bulldogs cut the lead to eight with 3:33 left in the half with a layup from Tyler Schwebach. Merrigan and Stoll responded with back-to-back baskets — giving the Eagles a double-digit lead that would last for the remainder of the game. Jefferson’s defense held Stanberry to just 16 first-half points.
“I think communication, we do a great job of talking to each other and we know that we’ve always got each other’s backs,” Merrigan said.
The Eagles dominated the Bulldogs in the third quarter, holding them to just three points.
“We talked at halftime about being a little frustrated about some things not going our way offensively, but defensively we did a great job and we just needed to stay the course,” Jermain said.
Jefferson led 43-19 at the end of the third quarter and cruised through the fourth quarter on its way to winning the district championship. Merrigan led the Eagles with 14 points, while Chor and Farnan finished with 10 points each.
North Andrew and Mound City will play on Friday to see who will face the Eagles next Tuesday in St. Joseph. Jefferson defeated the Cardinals 55-40 on Jan. 10. The Panthers and Eagles have faced each other three times this season with all three wins going to Mound City by a combined seven points.
“I just think that whoever we play in that game, they’re just going to be glad to be there,” Tim Jermain said. “I think they’ve been playing with a lot of confidence and I think they will continue to do that. We keep talking about not letting negative thoughts into our minds and I think they’re in a good mental place right now.”