SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The Jefferson Eagles have been riding a high for the last week after beating rival Mound City by 16 points in the sectional round to avenge three regular-season losses to the Panthers. They used that swagger to knock off second-ranked Winston by 16 points in the quarterfinals.
That momentum traveled on Friday as the Eagles (27-4) went to the Final Four and rolled to a 62-49 victory over Linn County (15-8) to earn their way to Saturday’s State Championship against top-ranked Dora.
“It is not a bad thing, right?” Jefferson coach Tim Jermain asked when the lop-sided nature of their recent games was brought up. “We just have to continue to play with confidence.”
The game was much more lop-sided than 13 points throughout much of the game after the Eagles took command with a 16-point run to begin the game.
“Obviously, getting off to a 16-0 start is the way you would draw it up if you had a choice,” Tim Jermain said. “But I thought we did a good job of executing and running the floor. … I thought overall, it was just a pretty solid game.”
Jefferson worked outside-in in the opening minutes with seniors Koby Stoll and Nathan Jermain hitting three points on the first two possessions of the game. Chase Farnan made it 8-0 on the third possession of the game with a layup.
“Once Koby hit that first three, we had that momentum and the crowd started going crazy,” Nathan Jermain said. “When I stepped up there, my teammates told me to hit it. It felt good and I knew it was going in.”
Steven Chor and Nathan Jermain each scored to lengthen the lead and then Farnan showed his versatility with a mid-range jumper then a dunk the next possession to cap the 16-0 run.
“We ran a couple of set plays and we were able to knock those shots down,” Tim Jermain said. “That makes it much more difficult, because they have a difficult time of helping inside. Knocking those shots down were huge.”
The first adversity for Jefferson came on the following possession when leading-scorer Clayton Merrigan picked up his second foul. The Mustangs began to gather some momentum with a 6-1 run to pull within 17-1.
The Eagles knew how best to respond and pounded the ball into Farnan. The 6-foot-6 center scored again on a short jumper then Stoll connected on a jumper for a 21-6 lead after the first quarter.
“When they started coming back, it is nice to be able to go to something that is really hard for them to stop,” Coach Jermain said of Farnan. “That was a big key in the second half especially.”
The Mustangs started the second quarter with a 7-2 run to slice the margin the single digits for the first time since the opening minutes, but Jefferson had the answer with a 6-0 spurt sparked by four points from Merrigan to push the margin to 29-15.
The teams traded buckets for much of the remainder of the quarter, but a three-pointer from Chor gave the Eagles their biggest lead of the game at 39-22 heading into halftime.
A three from Nathan Jermain gave the Eagles a 20-point lead 30 seconds into the third quarter.
The Mustangs cut the lead to 12 on two occasions but were never able to get back within single digits as the Eagles coasted through the finish line and into the state finals.
Farnan led the Eagles with 26 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks. His defense went beyond just blocking shots as the Eagles held Linn County star big man Chadley Waltz to 4-of-18 shooting and 12 points.
“It is a lot of intensity,” Farnan said of the defense. “We are pressing them and they don’t really know what hits them at first.”
The only scary moment for the Eagles was when Stoll, their senior point guard, went to the floor holding his ankle and limped to the sideline. Stoll reentered the game, but was noticeably hobbled.
“We are here to play,” Stoll said. “Nothing is going to stop us.”
Coach Jermain says they will be careful with Stoll, but doesn’t see any way he doesn’t play against Dora on Saturday night.
“I think you are going to have a hard time keeping him out of there,” Tim Jermain said.
Dora (29-1) advances to the title game after an 80-71 overtime win over St. Elizabeth. Dora star guard Isaac Haney matched his season average with 28 points in the game.
The Eagles will be playing for their first state championship since 2006-08 when they won three-straight.
“We have prepared for this game for 11 months now,” Farnan said. “Now we are here. I’m really excited to go play it.”