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Super subs Combs and Foster make for captivating stories in Nixa's title tilt victory


SPRINGFIELD — Storylines involving Nixa backups Jaise Combs and Bryce Foster highlighted the Eagles’ Blue Division championship run at the Blue & Gold Tournament.

Combs and Foster made for fascinating feel-good narratives recapping top-seeded Nixa’s 59-48 triumph against second-seeded Republic on Friday.

On a night in which Nixa struggled mightily from 3-point land, Combs and Foster swished 3s that were instrumental in the Eagles’ victory. 

Combs capped his comeback from a heart condition that delayed the start of his junior season by a week. He netted a trio of 3s, including two treys in the second half that swung the momentum Nixa’s way.

“I got in rhythm and once I get in rhythm (shooting) becomes second nature for me,” Combs said. “When you get in a rhythm, you keep on making shots. I’m a shooter. Teams are going to figure that out.”

Through three-plus quarters, Combs had Nixa’s only three 3s.  The Eagles missed 11 of their first 12 3-point attempts. Their starting five never did make a 3.

This game was playing out very similar to Nixa’s loss to Bentonville, Arkansas, in the Willard Tournament final at the start of this month. The Eagles finished 5-of-23 shooting 3s in their 54-48 defeat.

Combs didn’t suit up during the Willard Tournament, as he awaited clearance to play from doctors due to a heart condition that was causing him to feel fatigued.

"Something was wrong with my heart and I had to miss a few games,” Combs said. “At school (for a physical), they tested my heartbeat and found something. My Mom made me go to a doctor's appointment. She wanted to keep me out (from basketball) and see what the doctors said. I went to a cardiologist. He told me to chill out from basketball for a few weeks.

“It's nothing major like an irregular heartbeat or anything like that,” he added. “I'm all good now. (Doctors) said I would be fine. I feel great, just like I felt before. (My health) is something I have to monitor.”

Combs is grateful he was able to return to the hardwood and add to his family’s overwhelming legacy at Nixa. His older brothers, Kael and Braeden and his half-brother, Jalen Norman, are among the premier players in the Eagles' hoops history. 

“My family has prayed a lot for me,” Jaise said. “I can't appreciate them enough.”

Combs' trio of 3s came during a stretch in which his teammates were 0-of-12 on their 3-point attempts. Combs had one trey in the first half and two in the second half.

“We've been struggling shooting the ball, so Jaise hitting three 3s was huge,” coach Brock Blansit said. “Nine points doesn't seem like a ton, but in a game like this it was a lot. He hit some big ones.”

Foster provided a 3 that triggered a late 11-2 Nixa run. Foster’s trey put the Eagles on top 49-43 with 4:07 remaining. It was Nixa’s biggest lead up to that point. Eventually, Blansit’s bunch extended its advantage to 57-45.

“I thought Bryce hit the biggest shot of the game,” Blansit said. “It put us up six. But in a game like that, it felt like 20.

“Everybody contributes for our team,” he added. “Whether you play 30 seconds or 10 minutes, you've got to be ready to go when your number is called.”

Foster is a regular in Blansit’s 10-man rotation, but his minutes are usually limited to a handful a night. No matter, he didn’t hesitate to fire away with the game’s outcome very much on the line.

“I had a few looks I didn't take in the first half,” Foster said. “My teammates trust me. In the locker room (at halftime), they were telling me to shoot the ball. 

“Being ready and trusting the work I put in, I was ready for that shot,” he added. “It's big for my confidence. I needed that.”

Title tilts have brought out the best in Foster. He had a pair of 3s in Nixa’s win against Park Hill in the Liberty North Tournament championship game.

“I haven't shot that many (3s), but am shooting at a high clip,” he said.

Foster says it was fitting his 3 was from a wing directly in front of his teammates.

“I think that's my hot spot, right by our bench,” he said.

Blansit wanted to reward Foster for his clutch shot by giving him extended reps in the final few minutes. But Foster was forced courtside due to blood on his jersey.

One reason he was a bit timid to take a shot early on was a cut on the index finger of his left hand he suffered earlier this week. He had the finger wrapped, but the cut flared up again shortly after his 3. 

“I took Ibuprofen before the game, so I didn't really feel (the cut),” Foster said. “I don't know when it got re-cut. I looked down at my hand and it was covered in blood and blood was all over my jersey. One of the players on Republic pointed it out (to the referees), so I got subbed out.”

Another Nixa sub, Keivon Flint, was in a co-starring role due to his defense. Flint was consistently in the face of Republic star guard Brenley Hagewood, a contender to be the best player in the COC this season. 

Also, Josh Peters made a classic defensive stop by blocking a Hagewood mid-range jumper. 

Hagewood scored 20 points, but endured a 6-of-19 shooting night from the field.

“That's not going to happen many times. I doubt that will happen the next time we play them,” Blansit said of Hagewood shooting at a 32-percent clip. “Hagewood is one of the best players in the area. He's going to get shots off and gets his points. You can't really prevent him from getting shots off because he jumps so high when he shoots. Kievon defensively was unbelievable in the fourth quarter. We tried our best to keep (Hagewood) in front of us and I thought we did a good job of that.”

Nixa had about as productive a game offensively as a team can while finishing 4-of-17 shooting 3s. The Eagles were 15-of-22 shooting from inside the 3-point line.

Devon Kemp delivered a slew of late free throws to score 14 points.

When Nixa did miss, the Eagles got a handful of second chances thanks to Adam McKnight contributing five offensive rebounds, to go along with his 12 points.

“Rebounding is about effort and his effort is always at 100 percent,” Blansit said. 

Nixa upped its winning streak against Republic to five games. 

The Eagles have won nine straight at the Blue & Gold dating back to their upset loss at the hands of Springfield Catholic in 2021. 

“A lot of upsets happen at this tournament,” Blansit said. “We’ve had that happen to us many times. You've got to be prepared each time out. I thought our guys did a good job of playing well for four days.”